Luca’s sleeper!

You know how you sometimes think that a person’s name has destined them for their job? I came to think of this earlier this week, hearing of a guy called Andrew Drinkwater, working for the UK Water Research Centre. Yeah I know, very funny, but who knows, perhaps there’s indeed something in the sub-conscious that leads these people through life to their future careers? There’s however a second category of people where the connection is less direct, but where the professional choice is still kind of obvious. I mean, if you hear the name Luca Cordero die Montezemolo and you see a guy looking like the below picture, you know straight away that he’s the president of Ferrari, right? How could he possibly have any another occupation?

Destined for his job!

Jokes aside, our friend Luca has actually had a number of other jobs through his illustruous career before (and after) Fiat president Gianni Agnelli made him president of Ferrari in 1991. However, not only does he sound and look like a president of Ferrari should, he was also critical to Ferrari’s development both on the track and off it during the 90’s. It was under di Montezemolo’s leadership that Ferrari hired Jean Todt as team president and a few years later Michael Schumacher as driver, leading the F1 team back to their first driver’s and constructor’s world titles in 20 years. Off the track, di Montezemolo also had clear views on Ferrari’s future line-up: he wanted the new models to return to the classical Ferrari set-up with a front-mounted V12 engine in the style of the Daytona, rather than the mid-engined cars which had been the focus through the 80’s. He also wanted them to be true drivers’ cars in the sense of cars that you can drive every day, meaning a clear improvement in build quality.

The two cars that represent di Montezemolo’s philosophy best are on one hand the beautiful F550 which I wrote about a long way back in 2015, but on the other the less well known Ferrari 456. Both share the same fabulous base engine, but the 456 is of course a four-seater and actually something as unusual as a very discrete Ferrari that some people (let’s call them less discerning) could actually mistake for something else. It doens’t screem “look at me!!”, usually doesn’t come in red, and today actually trades at far below EUR 100′, probably making it the best value there is to be had among classical Maranello cars, especially since it’s actually a really good car that is clearly underrated. All good reasons to look closer at it this week!

Generally considered one of the more beautiful Ferraris, with a clear 90’s vibe!

Starting with that discrete design, that’s absolutely not the same as saying that the 456 isn’t pretty. On the contrary, it’s by most considered one of the more beautiful recent Ferraris. It has kind of a timeless look with the 90’s, rounded styling elements clear to see. Interestingly, the 456 was the last Ferrari to feature pop-up headlights. It’s also one of the more colour-sensitive Ferraris, with most cars coming in silver or various shades of metallic blue, colours that suit the car really well as opposed to the Ferrari red which really doesn’t. The inside is a clear step-up compared to 80’s cars like the Testarossa (or indeed the 365-400-412, a car with the same concept produced through the 70’s and 80’s) with a whole different quality feel to the interior. It’s quite simply a nice place to spend many hours in. That feeling of well-being is further supported by the wonderful work Ferrari did with the V12 under the bonnet.

Everything you need, and nothing that you don’t!

It’s certainly complanining on a high level, but sometimes V12’s can suffer from a lack of torque at low revs. This was notably a criticism BMW had to hear with the 850, and it can be traced back to various aspects of how the engine is built. Ferrari was conscious of this during the development of the 456 and used various tricks and all the experience of the team back in Maranello to improve power especially at lower revs. They notably went back to the 65 degree-angle of the Ferrari Dino days, but also changed the firing order of the 12 cylinders (each by the way 456 cm3 in volume and thus the source of the car’s name). Rather than alternating the firing order along the crankshaft as is usually the case, the 456 fires the cylinders next to each other, which together with some other clever engineering gave the 456 a clear boost in low-down torque. The naturally-aspirated masterpiece puts out 442 hp in total, which for a weight of around 1900 kg is really all that you need.

The 456 was built on the verge between the mechanical and digital age, meaning it still has some interesting pure mechanical components, such an accelerator by wire. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make it an ideal do-it-yourself car (even though adjusting that gas wire can do wonders and is quite simple!), and the 456 needs regular service to a larger extent than more modern Ferraris, including a new cam belt every 3-4 years. If it’s taken care of properly, it is however fundamentally well built and ticks all of Luca di Montezemolos desired boxes for an everyday Ferrari. The other thing it needs plenty of, as a true representative of the mechanical 12-cylinder engine age, is unfortunately fuel, but that’s hopefully not a surprise to anyone. Apart from that the 456 is a wonderful, true GT, ready to transport you and your three passengers (with the two in the back preferrably not being basketball stars) and their luggage to some nice southern location, without any need for an infotainment system with 29 speakers!

The fabulous 5.5 litre, 12 cylinder engine

The 456 was available with a 6-speed manual (with the most beautiful gearshift gate ever built) that you definitely want, and a 4-speed automatic you don’t necessarily. I mean sure, you can imagine the 456 with an automatic, but how could you ever choose not to have a gear changer looking like the one pictured further up? There’s also roughly as many of the Modificata version, the facelift produced from 1998 and onwards and which featured an updated interior, body elements and chassis, but not more power. For both, the market today starts at around EUR 65-70′, going up to to maybe EUR 90′. One thing to note here is that if you speak to Ferrari specialists, they will tell you that the engine isn’t really run in until after 50′-70′ km, meaning you don’t necessarily need to go for the low-mileage cars, but rather those that have been driven, enjoyed and maintained. That’s good, because those tend to come from the right owners, and they’re also typically found towards the lower range of that price range.

There’s no doubt quite a few people who would love to own a Ferrari 12-cylinder but who find most of them a bit too flashy to be seen in. I’d probably count myself among those, and for us the 456 is rather ideal. It has style, it has grace, and it provides all the Ferrari pleasure but in a more discreet format, and right now at a lower price tag. Around 3300 cars were built in total between 1992 and 2003, from 1998 in the “M” for Modificata version. In a world where underrated classics have become few and far between, and none more so than those combining 12 cylinders with a manual transmission, here is certainly one of the last good representatives. So in summary, we should all be thankful to Luca Cordero di Montezemolo for taking on the job his name destined him to!

GTI – letters that changed the world!

The other day I spoke to my not-very-car-interested neighbour about a car he had seen illegally parked in our street (this is Switzerland remember, so these are the kinds of things you discuss with your neighbours). When asking him what kind of car it was, he said “it was one of those Jeeps”, which of course doesn’t mean it was a GM Jeep at all, but rather some kind of SUV. Jeep is thereby an example of a quite rare phenomenon, namely when a brand name becomes representative of a whole segment. I’m sure that’s great for Jeep somehow, but let’s assume I had instead asked the neighbour what he thought about when I said “GTI”. I’m quite sure the answer would have been “Golf”, not only from him, but basically from every single person born in the 70’s and 80’s (and perhaps some others as well). Three letters, meaning nothing more than Grand Turismo Injection, have become synonymous not only with all Golf GTI’s built in different versions since the mid-70’s, but with the whole hot hatch segment that followed. That’s beats Jeep by a mile, and today we’ll look at the first generation Golf GTI!

Doesn’t look like much today, but a car that changed the world!

The sun was shining on our summer house outside of Stockholm in the summer in 1976 or 1977 when the father in the neighbouring family arrived in his new Golf GTI. You’ll forgive me for not knowing the date exactly but I was five or six then so this is one of my very early memories, but I do remember how extremely cool the car was and how great it sounded! The neighbours had two sons roughly my age, and I would enjoy many rides to the beach in that Golf together with them in the following years. I especially remember the younger one loving to stand between the front chairs and play air guitar during the drives – yeah, these were slightly different times…

That Golf GTI was of course a representative of the Golf family, one of the biggest car successes of all times and born out of VW’s inability in the late 60’s and early 70’s to develop a desirable replacement to the ageing Beetle, a pre-WW2 construction. Finally Giurgietto Guigiaro took the pen and drew what became the Golf, introduced in 1974. The self-supporting body of the new car showed very good rigidity, and thus a group of engineers came up with the idea to build a more sporty version. They managed to convince VW’s management and “the fastest VW of all time” would be introduced in 1976, with as engine the 1.6 litre four-pot from the Audi 80 GTE, developing 110 hp. Not a lot, but remember this was in a car weighing in at around 800 kg, and also at a time where there was some kind of inofficial consensus that a front-wheel drive car couldn’t handle more than 100 hp. VW’s management may have been convinced to go ahead with the GTI but didn’t have very high hopes for its potential success, estimating the total demand at 5.000 cars. That was of course just slightly off the mark.

A rather modest-looking engine bay…

The GTI became an immediate success. Some optical touches consisting of a different front spoiler and the famous, red-framed front grill but also black window frames and plastic wheelhouse arches for the slightly larger wheels all helped differentiate it on the outside from regular Golfs. The optical “tuning” with limited means continued on the inside with the famous tartan textile on the seats and the even more famous golfball-styled shifting knob. The Golf GTI had stiffer suspension than regular Golfs and was fun to drive. Given the low weight, its sub-10 seconds to 100 km/h meant it was quicker than many of the popular coupés at the time, such as the Manta we looked at a couple of weeks ago or indeed VW’s own Scirocco. Not only was it faster/better to drive, it remained as practical as any Golf, built like a box and easily fitting both more people and luggage than a coupé. Its pricing was competitive and the 5.000 cars VW had imagined rapidly became much more, eating into a lot of those coupé sales.

Tartan sport seats and a golf knob in the pre-1981 cars!

Based very much on the idea of never changing a winning concept, there weren’t many modifications to the Mk1 GTI until its production end in 1984. Some of the most important include the five-speed gearbox that came in 1979 and wasn’t to everyone’s liking, and what can be referred to as a face lift in 1981 including larger tail lights and a re-designed interior with notably a new dashboard but also new textiles – and a new gear shifter. In the final year of production the GTI would receive a larger engine at 1.8 litres, primarily with better torque, that would later be used in the MK2 GTI. The purists weren’t more convinced by the new engine than by the five-speed gearbox, as the larger engine to them didn’t feel as “pointy” as the old one. This is of course reminiscent of the same discussion around the 1.6 vs the 1.9 litre in the Peugeot 205 GTI, the hot hatch that is almost as legendary as the Golf GTI and which would make life hard for the Mk2 GTI from the mid-80’s and onwards.

From 1981 on, notably tail lights were larger

When the lights went out on the first series GTI, a total of just over 460.000 cars had been built. By now this is over a million across all eight series of the GTI, and even though there have certainly been later models that are great to drive, the purity of the original concept has vanished over the years, with the GTI becoming much more of a conventional, and not-very-hot hatch. The no-frills approach of the first series is what made its success, together with the fact that it remained as practical and solid as any conventional Golf, and it’s what still makes it great today. If you can find one, that is.

Given the production numbers you’d perhaps expect that there are still plenty of cars to be had. Unfortunately, the reality is rather that many cars have been crashed, thrashed or tuned to death, or quite simply rusted away, since VW’s rust protection at the time wasn’t great. The Golf is of course not a 12-cylinder Italian full blood and it won’t ruin you even if it’s not perfect but still, for the EUR 20-25′ where the fun starts today (by the way more or less what the GTI cost when it was launched in today’s money), make sure you find the right car. If you do, the grand daddy of the whole hot hatch segment still reamains one of its best representatives. These days however, I’d recommend enjoying it without air guitar playing between the front seats!

Street finds – the SUV duel!

It’s no secret that a lot of money has never been a guarantee of good taste (rather the contrary in many cases), and it’s something I came to think about earlier this week when I saw this pair parked close to my office. Both SUV’s of course, and both among the cars with the longest production time of any car model, even if this is of course the upated G-wagon. Both also among the most capable cars there are when the road ends, although as usual, none of these and especially the G will ever see anything but tarmac. The pair was however also optically interesting, as the G wagon is a Hofele version, equipped with an interior the same colour as the Defender’s paint – orange. That paint, officially under the name Phoenix orange, came as part of the Defender 90 Adventure Edition in the last year of production in 2016. So in other words, both these cars are special editions.

Two special legends!

Starting with the Defender, it has an appeal like few other cars. I can’t help smile whenever I see one, and even though I think Land Rover has done a great job with the new version, there’s really nothing like the original Defender, especially in the 90 (short) version. As cool as it is on the outside, as uncomfortable, squeezed and old it is on the inside. The door will be in constant contact with your left leg and unless you open the window, forget about resting your arm on it. The turning circle is… bad, as is the suspension, the wind noises are terrible, and the 122 hp aren’t anything to write home about. And yet, sitting up there, you feel like perhaps not the king of the world, but still pretty darn good. And again, should the road ever end, the Defender is the best friend you can have.

Then there’s the G63 Hofele. Don’t recognize the name? It was new to me as well when, by coincidence, I drove by their Zurich branch a while ago. Going in to check it out, I learnt that Hofele is a German company specialized in tuning of various Mercedes models, but especially the G-wagon. Tuning here means completely redone interiors, new wheels and things like rear-hinged doors and other stuff some people are willing to pay lots of money for. The emphasis is however on the interior which is transformed into an orgy of leather and alcantara, all to the precise wishes of the owner. I sat in one when I stopped by Hofele and I’ve truly never seen anything like it. In this precise case the owner seems to be a true fan of bright colours, as not only did he choose the not-to-everybody’s-liking brilliant blue as exterior colour (I would guess that at least 80-90% of G’s sold are black or dark grey, with the rest being white, silver or dark green, but not blue…), he combined it with the most orange interior ever seen in any car.

The inside is VERY orange…

Except for being the most classical SUV’s and most capable offroad cars you can find, and both being special editions, these two really have nothing more in common. The Defender is as rustical as it gets, the G an ocean of luxury, especially in the Hofele edition. It has about five times as many horsepower as the Defender (even though you can only enjoy them in a straight line, since the driving systems will prevent the laws of nature as soon as the road starts to twist…), at least five times better build quality and as they stand here, it’s also at least five times the price. Late 90’s version of the original Defender change hands for EUR 60-70′, while Hofele adds around EUR 200′ to the original G63 price, meaning a total price tag of around EUR 400-450′. I honestly don’t know which one is the most absurd.

If orange isn’t your thing, they’ll do any other colour you want.

Let’s however play with the idea that some generous soul would give you one of these two, on the only condition that you had to drive it over the coming years? What a no-brainer – of course you’d take the G63 right? Yeah – it’s just that the exterior colour is a bit… And then of course, everytime you’d open the door, you would be confronted with an orange orgy that you may just get a bit tired of pretty quickly. And you’d really have to be immune to everyone else’s looks, because whereas I’ve never seen anyone frown at the sight of a classic Defender, there are lots of people out there who have rather negative thoughts about SUV’s in general and very flashy G-wagons in particular.

I’d like to think I’d go for the Defender. Somehow I’ve always wanted one, and after I find the dream house in the Alps or the old castle in Tuscany, it’s definitely the second thing I would buy. And if I ever wanted to sell it, as proven by its current price, there’s really no car that keeps its residual value as well as a Defender. Under normal conditions, that would be true for the G-wagon as well. In this colour combination however, I think the first owner is in for a pretty hefty loss should he wish to sell his orange paradise. Then again, the residual value was probably not a concern of his in the first place…

Roughly how I imagine myself in a few years…

Manta Manta!

The car we’ll look at today comes from Germany, which is obviously not very remarkable. But if I tell you it’s a car that every single German born somewhere between 1960 and 1990 will have a story or memory of, or rather, several stories and memories, that already narrows the selection quite a bit. If I then tell you it’s a piece of German modern culture, and yet forgotten in the rest of the world, you would be scratching your head if you hadn’t seen the picture in the banner. Actually you may still be scratching your head, since the car we’ll talk about this week is an Opel, GM’s European brand not known for exciting cars in any way and not very well known outside of Europe (although the Manta was actually one very few Opel models that were sold in the US). I have a distinct feeling that this is the only time Opel will be featured on this blog, but the legendary Opel Manta shows that even brands that don’t get it right very often sometimes do, at least in creating a true legend. Enough said – this week we’ll have a closer look at the Manta but even more, at the cult and culture that has developed around it every since, and lives on to this day!

Starting with the name, a Manta (or manta ray as it’s also known) is the largest ray fish in the world. You may ask yourself why on earth an auto-maker would name a car after a fish, but remember that animals in general were popular in the 60’s, as shown notably by the Ford Mustang, and fish more particularly so, with both the Corvette Stingray and the Plymouth Barracuda. Very much in line wth the times, Opel thus opted to name its new coupé Manta, and all Mantas had a badge with the shadow of a manta fish on the left front wing. The message was clear: driving a Manta was far cooler than driving any other Opel! Unless you’re a die hard Opel fan, that’s however where all similarities with any of the above animal cars end…

As cool as it gets – if you’re an Opel fan

The German auto scene was competitive in the booming 60’s with Opel in the running notably against Ford, as both brands shared the focus on building reasonably-priced cars for the German middle class. Family coupés were very popular at this time not only in Germany, considered a sportier way to drive around your family, typically consisting of your wife, two children and their luggage, than a more traditional sedan or station wagon. This worked since not only the family but also their luggage was for some reason far smaller than today, and Ford had brought the slick and very successful Capri coupé in 1966 which Opel couldn’t compete with as their only coupé at the time, the Kadett, was too small to fit the bill. Something had to be done, which for Opel meant giving the pen to George Gallion, an American designer, and asking him to draw a larger coupé with the Kadett as basis. So he did, the Manta was born, and Gallion became the father on what is after the 911 perhaps Germany’s most well-known car model – in Germany.

A nice Series 1 and next to it, not the Manta’s typical buyer!

Production of the first Manta series started in 1970. Priced from 8.000 German marks and upwards, it was a car people could afford, but neither of the two four-pot engines at 60 or 90 hp were really sporty enough to swing the tail of the rear-wheel drive coupé. Still, around half a million Mantas were built over the following five years until 1975. By then the Manta was getting old and Opel introduced the series 2, or Manta B – according to commercials from the time, a car that was “dynamic, racy, sporty, comfortable, and safe”. In truth it was even less racy than the first series, at least in the beginning as it had to appeal to buyers who had just come out of the first oil crisis. It was however a better car, bigger in every dimension and more comfortable, according to Opel what buyers were looking for. If production is anything to go by, they were right. The Manta B was built over 13 years until 1988 in a total of another half million cars – longer than any other Opel model has ever been built.

A very green Manta B with clear 80’s flair…

The Manta was thus a huge success but not, as you’ve probably guessed by now, a very exciting car. The design of the first series is classic and reminiscent of other coupés from the same era, not only the Ford Capri but also for example the the Fiat 124 Sport Coupé, one of which I was once a proud owner. At the time the Manta set-up with a longitudinal front engine and rearl-wheel drive was the norm, but fitting the engines lacking power to a 3-speed automatic in addition to the 4-speed manual didn’t really contribute to the sportiness. The fact that the owner’s manual was shared with the grandfather-like Opel Ascona, and said so in large letters on the cover, didn’t really help either. The Manta B looks more the part here, at least if spoilers and skirts is a sign of sportiness. It did offer more power at up to 140 hp and with time also a 5-speed manual, but that was really it. Until the tuners toog center stage, that is.

The 80’s were obviously the decade of bad taste in general, and car tuning in every way, both optical and mechanical, in particular. Thanks to its relatively cheap and basic mechanics, the Manta quickly became a favourite among tuners and pretty soon also the laughing stock of the rest of the population. Numerous stories and jokes not really pointing to neither the intelligence, nor the taste of Manta drivers made the rounds, and still do today. An example of one of those that can be translated would go as follows: “what goes through the head of a Manta driver when he hits a brick wall? The rear spoiler”. The type of jokes also had to do with Mantas being cheap, as was often the quality of the tuning, and the Manta thus became a favourite among those with slightly smaller budgets and where things like big black letters screaming “Manta!!” on the side of the car, the 80’s style rear window sun curtain or even small spoilers on the windshield wipers were considered tuning. Other mandatory attributes included a fox tail on the antenna and driving-style wise, always driving your Manta with your left arm leaning out the side window. Engine-wise not much of a budget was required either to get more power out of the four-pot, or as some proud owners did, replacing it altogether!

Classic Manta tuning – no carbon here…

By the 80’s the Manta was however starting to get old, with the basic construction originating in the 60’s and far more modern cars coming on stage. Opel thought a bit of marketing was all it would take to change this, and tried to re-vitalize the Manta in a big marketing campaign showing it not as a car belonging in front of a fast food joint, but rather in the front yard of a successful businessman. That didn’t really work, to put it mildly. They also tried to enter the rally scene with the Manta 400, which at 260 hp was the most powerful Manta every built. This was however the time of four-wheel drive and more modern constructions in the rally scene, and Opel’s adventure ended quickly, as did production a few years later. The legend was however just getting started…

In 1991, the German movie “Manta Manta” premiered and was subsequently watched by more than 12 million Germans, meaning around 1/6 of the population! It can be described as a mix of Grease and Fast & Furious in an early 90’s German setting, featuring a group of young Manta owners on their adventures and culminating in a race between a heavily tuned Manta and an arrogant 190 2.3-16 driver. It manages to pack every single Manta joke and combine it with 90’s-style racing scenes and some truly amazing hair cuts into 87 minuts, and if you’re into the time period and light entertainment German style (an interesting combination), it’s definitely not one to be missed. The movie was anyway crucial in continuing the Manta legend and also establishing its reputation as a car for those with somewhat simpler minds.

The film car from “Manta Manta” – the world’s most famous Manta!

The Manta scene in Germany remains active to this day, with regular gatherings of everything from original cars to, well, less original ones. There is a bit of a difference to be made here between the first and second series, with the first one generally attracting a more traditional, oldtimer-focused crowd, and the second one more of 80’s enthusiasts. Both types are starting to become increasingly rare and thus to increase in price, although we’re still at relatively modest levels of EUR 15-25′ for good cars. If the 911 isn’t your thing or budget but you still want to drive one of the most legendary German cars there’s ever been, and in addition at a very reasonable budget given the not very exciting but very solid technology, you really can’t go wrong with a Manta. If it’s a B, make sure there’s no rust or damage underneath all those spoilers and that if it’s tuned, it’s done in a somewhat proper way. And whichever one you choose, should you go to Germany, be prepared for the a joke here and there – but also for a lot of smiling faces!

Vive la République!

Can a supercar that is today worth around EUR 1.5m (or USD 1.6-1.7m) ever be called a bargain? Or actually, let me rephrase that: can a French car worth around 1.5m ever be called a bargain? How you answer that question obviously depends on your economic reality and your relationship to French cars, and you also have to be very clear on the word “bargain” only ever referring to the purchase price – nothing thereafter can be called a bargain, whatever your budget, as we’ll see later. If however you’re lucky enough to have cars above a million being part of your economic reality, then you should certainly have a closer look at the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, built in Mulhouse, France, for all the reasons we’ll look at today!

Most Veyron’s are bi-color, but the real cool ones in my eyes are the single-color ones!

For those of us with slightly smaller bank accounts, the Veyron will remain the stuff of dreams – but what dreams! Every decade has its supercar shining star (Lambo Countach, Ferrari F40, McLaren F1 etc.), but all these fade in comparison with the Veyron. When it was presented in the mid-00’s, no one had seen anything like it. A street car capable of 400 km/h with a 16-cylinder, 8-litre engine with four turbo chargers putting out over 1000 hp, at a level of luxury comparable to the best in the business, and at a new price of around today’s value, i.e. 1.5m. The Veyron was a true revelation and as such, also the precursor to later supercars like the Pagani, Koenigsegg and of course also Bugatti’s Chiron. In that sense, it is and will always remain a true legend of which a total of 450 cars were built during 10 years, from 2005 to 2015.

There are so many fabulous facts around the Veyron that you can’t list them all. As alluded to above, this is a car with a top speed of over 407 km/h, completely unheard of for a road car in 2006 and a number you really don’t need to be embarassed about in any way today either. In comparison, the current top-of-the-range McLaren Speedtail of which McLaren has built (and sold out) 106 cars and which benefits from all the latest hybrid technology “only” manages 403 km/h. Some other crazy facts around the Veyron includes that it takes in as much air in one minute as you breathe – in four days. Or that if you run it at full throttle (for which you require two separate ignition keys, the second to release the full power), the 100 litre tank will be empty in 12 minutes. or that you need to change the tires after 7′-8′ kms or when you’ve exceeded 400 km/h on four occasions, and that they’re not the type that come with a discount at your local tire dealer. And so on. In every single aspect, they Veyron was the most extreme creation the world had ever seen.

Not that you’ll see a Veyron often on the road, but if you do, this is likely to be the angle

Bugatti has a long and pretty troubled history going all the way back to 1909. Ettore Bugatti founded the company in Mulhouse in the French Alsace region, which borders Germany and belonged to Germany at the time, before becoming French after WW2. The company produced some of the most exclusive sports and luxury cars in the world from 1909 until WW2, when the Maginot front line ran practially through the factory. After the war Bugatti wasn’t able to keep up with the times and was unsuccessfully taken over first by Hispano-Suiza in 1963 and subsequently in 1987 by the Italian Romano Artioli who bought the rights to the name and set it up as an Italian company. His ownership lasted 12 years and it was during this time that the EB110 was developed, the only modern Bugatti car before the Veyron and not a huge success. Bugatti continued to balance on the brink of insolvency until 1998 when it was finally taken over by Volkswagen and returned to Mulhouse. Under VW’s ownership, the company started to work on what was to become the Veyron straight away, with a very clear objective: to build the fastest road car the world had ever seen.

The Royale is one of Bugattis most famous cars from the pre-war era

Central to all the Veyron prototypes was the engine, initially planned to be an even larger 18-cylinder monster, basically combining three six-cylinder engines. Technical issues with the highly complex construction led to the company having to settle with “only” 16 cylinders, V-formed and mid-mounted. The whole package with the four turbos weighed more than half a ton, to which should be added the 100 kg of the 7-gear double-clutch gearbox. If you think that sounds like a lot for a gearbox, remember it has to handle a torque of 1250 Nm! The Veyron has a total of 10 radiators with a total system capacity of over 50 litres, and the car’s body is obviously full of air intakes to help cool the massive engine which initially put out 1001 hp and later as much as 1200 hp in the Super Sports version that was built from 2010 onwards.

The Veyron has what I would call a very understated, elegant, sleak design that also looks very aerodynamic in a soap-like kind of way. I’ve seen it live a couple of times and noted it also looks rather small, as supercars often do. It may therefore come as a surprise that in terms of aerodynamics, the Veyron is very far from setting any kind of records. With a wind coefficient of 0.39 it’s worse than most station wagons both then and now, and the problem mainly comes from the giant air intakes required to cool the engine but which upset the air streams. The weight not only of the engine but also of all other mechanical components and of course also the very luxurious interior brings the car to a total weight of around 1900 kg, roughly half a ton more than what was initially planned. If your aim is a top speed of over 400 km/h that kind of wind resistance doesn’t help, and that in combination with the weight helps explain the rather Opec-friendly consumption…

Same style as a Pagani, but far less extravagant!

Seeing a supercar from the inside is usually not very exciting, and going back 20 years, things were certainly not better, rather the contrary. The fact that other supercars were rather crappy perhaps makes the Veyron’s inside even more impressive, but it’s an interior that can easily be compared to the best cars in the business, irrespective of category. It’s a universe of leather and metal, a wonderful analogue universe that in its simplicity makes for example a Pagani look a bit over the top. It’s also the quality of the car that people who have been lucky enough to drive it talk about, and which contributes to completely without drama reaching 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and then keep going on, and on, and on…

So what about the bargain part? Well, as mentioned, Veyrons today start at around 1.5m. That’s an insane amount of money, but if you compare it to the very small universe of comparable cars, things look a bit different. To take a few examples, the Veyron’s predecessor, the clearly inferior EB110 costs 200’300′ more, as does a Ferrari F40 or a McLaren P1. The Chiron costs around 2.5m, whereas a Ferrari Enzo is around 3m, same as a LaFerrari. And what they all have in common, is that they’re slower than the Veyron! As noted initially, the purchase price is however only half the story because when it comes to the running costs, the Veyron is very much in a league of its own. To take a few examples, an oil change takes 27 hours and costs around USD 20′. That’s about 5′ less than a set of new tires of the only approved type, the Michelin Pilot Sport PAX, and when you’ve replaced these four times, you will also need to replace the magnesium wheels. You don’t want to think about what that costs. I recently heard about a German dealer willing to add a one-year service and guarantee package to a Veyron he has for sale – for EUR 100.000…

The Bugatti factory in Molsheim – impressive and in spite of prices, heavily loss-making!

Of course, talking about the Veyron in terms of service costs is the wrong angle to take. You should instead admire it for the amazing technical creation it is, especially considering its technology is almost 20 years old. Volkswagen’s ambition with the Veyron was to showcase its technical capabilities, and it was willing to take very significant costs to do that. The result is enormously impressive, especially considering it happened almost 20 years ago, but it was also extremely complicated, and thereby expensive. No official numbers are available but it’s been estimated that VW took total losses of around EUR 1.7bn from Bugatti during the first eight years of the Veyron’s production time. That equals around EUR 4.5m per car and if you add the sale price of 1.5m to that, the total is around 6m. Given that and that you can buy a Veyron today for 1/4 of that, how can the Veyron be anything but a bargain??

When youngsters create legends!

Long-term readers of this blog will probably have understood by now that I have a bit of a weakness for the mechanical age, and a fascination for the fantastic engineers and mechanics that built incredible automobiles in the age before computers and modern production methods had conquered the world. And when all this comes together in the lovely Italian car tradition, then that’s basically as good as it gets – if you ask me. This week we’ll look at what is perhaps the best demonstration of such inspired, but not fault-free engineering. We’ll do so with a bunch of engineers and designers that have already featured a couple of times on this blog, and actually also with an element that can be described as a lesson in good management. This week is about the Lamborghini Miura, small in size but very large in supercar tradition!

We’re back in the mid-60’s and Ferruccio Lamborghini, who has so far introduced three cars to the market, is set on building a better GT car than what Ferrari has to offer. Better in reliability but also better in parts, not recycling racing parts but rather with cutting edge technology. He doesn’t care much for low, loud and uncomfortable sports cars, but he’s keen on using the 12-cylinder engine our old friend Giotto Bizzarrini developed after he left Ferrari to set up his own company (I wrote about Bizzarrini a year ago, see here). That is indeed one hell of an engine which produced 350 hp and revved all the way up to 9800 rpm. That was a bit too much for Ferruccio and he therefore gave the engine to his two engineers Stanzani and Dallara (the latter also the chief engineer of the whole car) to reduce the rev range somewhat and make the engine more reliable. They did so, managing not to lose power in the operation (well, at least not officially), but it doesn’t change the fact that Bizzarrini indeed developed Lamborghini’s first 12-cylinder engine. In Ferruccio’s mind, the only thing missing now was a GT car to put it in.

What Ferruccio had at his disposal next to the engine was an enthusiastic group of young engineers and a designer we’ve also met before, Marcello Gandini, who had just been hired by Bertone. These young stars didn’t really share Ferruccio’s vision of the next Lambo being a GT car, and they were also heavy influenced by a certain Ford GT40 which at the time was big news in the US. The Ford was essentially a race car and heavily inspired by it, the engineers set off on the concept of a race car for the road rather than for the track. Ferruccio watched – and stood back, leaving the youngsters to it. That may not sound as impressive as it actually was. You see, at this time in 1965, in a world where age still counted for quite a lot, chief engineer Dallara was 29 years old, as was Stanzani. Soon-to-be designer Gandini was 27. In a world where old men still ruled, it was in other words a bunch of kids that designed the world’s first true supercar!

Dallara and Stanzani built a frame of a size suitable for the sports car they had in mind, but not necessarily suitable for a large V12. But rather than making the frame any larger, they turned the engine around and basically merged the transmission with it, as there was really nowhere else to put it. This was undoubtedly the tightest package around a V12 ever built and must have been a complete nightmare to work on as a mechanic – and quite a few mechanics would be doing so in subsequent years. The engineers put some wheels on the frame with the engine fitted, and now only the body was missing.

As mentioned, Ferruccio had let the youngsters work on this in peace and probably thought of the project as a good showcase for Lamborghini in general, and the coming GT car in particular. That’s also why the soon-to-be Miura was presented just like that, without a body, at the Turin car show in 1965. To Ferruccio’s great surprise, this was all it took for the first ten orders to come in. For the chassis that is, not for the coming GT car. It became obvious that a body was now needed, and the job was given to 27-year old Marcello Gandini who had started at Bertone two days earlier. He certainly didn’t sit around, but rather designed the Miura in as many days as he’d been employed. Thanks to this, the car in its final layout could be presented just five months later, at the Geneva Auto Show in 1966. 30 more orders came directly at the show, bringing the total to 40, growing to 75 by the end of the year.

Everyone including Ferruccio were obviously happy about the great success, but it also created a bit of stress in Sant’Agata. You see, at the time, Lamborghini employed all of… 78 people. Around 40 of those were engineers, and another 20 were apprentices. The first remark is that it’s remarkable to take an idea to production in as little as two years with such a small team, and even more so when you think of how complicated the Miura was. The second remark is that it would maybe have been good if those apprentices had been real mechanics, as was to be discovered later. For now, everyone was highly motivated, working long shifts all days of the week. Ferruccio was happy to let them work, brought them food at night, and continued to keep out of the way.

Unfortunately the quality of the first cars was problematic to say the least, and probably sensing this would be the case, Lamborghini made sure to deliver the first cars to Italian clients. As the cars came in for service, the clients were then taken to some very long lunches, giving the mechanics enough time not only to service the cars, but actually to do some quite fundamental changes and improvements to them. The first series was thus far from perfect, something that however improved with the updated Miura S in 1969, which produced 25 hp more and had a slightly wider track. Some quite serious problems did however persist during the Miura’s whole production run, including engines breaking down completely because of failing lubrification, and cars catching fire due to a less successful positioning of the tank. On the less than perfect side was also the heat caused in the cabin through the positioning of the engine, and the fact that the slightest touch of the accelerator made any conversation impossible. At the same time, that’s of course one of the Miura’s greatest thrills!

The Miura may not have been a race car but it certainly looked like one. It was also really fast for the time, meaning a 0-100 km/h of around 5.5-6 seconds and a top speed of around 280 km/h. The car was light, as was the front end, causing quite a few rollover accidents. The Miura S was replaced by the last version, the SV, in 1971, and even thought things kept improving, the Miura never became trouble-free. Finally in 1973 Ferruccio decided to pull the plug, but he didn’t do it as you may think, by firing the team behind the less than perfect Miura project. Instead he not only delegated the management of Lamborghini’s whole production to Stanzani, but he even accepted the latter’s demands not to interfere in the day to day work, and never to challenge his decisions. Stanzani, clearly a fan of the saying “when in trouble, double!” quickly moved on to create the Countach, a car no less exotic, but which would become much more well-known and much more legendary than the Miura (see here if you missed my review of it last year).

It may have been the first, but the Miura was thus by no means the perfect supercar. But honestly, how could it have been, with the limited resources and experience Lamborghini had at its disposal? That doesn’t change the fact that what a bunch of under-30-year-olds created in a few months was truly impressive in everything from idea to realization. It’s also a good lesson in management, illustrating that letting young people pursue their ideas usually produces good results! Accidents, fires and breaking engines has reduced the number of Miuras left on the road today from close to 500 produced to no more than a few dozen, and finding one isn’t easy. It’s also not cheap. For most of us, the Miura will thus remain something we may see at a car show, and otherwise a wonderful story of young talent from the golden age of the automobile!

When Alfa gets it right!

Alfa Romeo is a legendary car brand, which through the years has worked like few others on ruining its legend and making the inherent love many of us have for the Italian brand a tough one indeed. Luckily however there have been periods when Alfa gets it right, and when they do, the cars they build tend to be pretty irresistible. The current Alfa line-up is the best Alfa’s had in years, but today we’ll go back 15 years to when Alfa got it right last time, with the wonderful 8C Competizione. Many will never have seen it as only 500 were initially built (of which 80 went to the US), but it was an important car not only in that it was pretty good, but also as it shaped Alfa’s design language over the coming years and also marked the brand’s return to the US, a market from which it had been absent since 1995. Finally, it’s one of very few, if not the only Alfa from the modern era that costs more today than it did as new. More than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!

Purposeful, compact, with elements reminding of Alfa’s past!

The 8C project started in 2003, a time when the Alfa line-up was not much to write home about. It included notably the Brera, a somewhat sporty coupé, far too heavy and with an engine from (hold on tight) Opel… The 159 and 166 were large sedans at a time when no one really wanted sedans anymore and with a design that wasn’t really one. I actually owned a 166 and it’s one of the better cars I’ve had, and surprisingly completely free of any problems, but the world can be forgiven for missing it.

Somewhere around here Alfa’s designers started working on a design study to express a new design language. The study was a sports coupé which the design team and the legendary boss Sergio Macchione were so pleased with that it received the sign-off for a limited production run of 500 cars. It had barely been announced to the market in 2006-2007 before the full production run was sold out. If you look at the car it’s easy to see why, but not only was it beautiful, it was also quite competitively priced at the time at around EUR 150′. That was however still twice as much as anything else in the Alfa line-up at the time.

It may not be a compliment mentioning that the same rear lights later featured on the MiTo mini hatch…

Looking closer at the design, it’s a lovely combination of classic Alfa elements from the 50’s and 60’s with a modern touch in a well proportioned, compact body, or in other words a true Italian beauty. When comparing it to today’s supercars, it’s almost shocking to see how Alfa managed to design the 8C and get the power onto the road without the use of a single spoiler. Under the carbon fibre body Alfa used a lot of what the Fiat sibling Maserati offered in the Grand Turismo, most notably the new 4.7 litre V8 engine which in the 8C sits right behind the front axle. In traditional Alfa style the gearbox was in the back and the 8C is thus a well balanced, transaxle construction. The engine put out 450 hp and with a weight of around 1600 kg, the 8C was more than 200 kg lighter than the Maserati and good for a 0-100 time of 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 290 km/h, all very respectable twenty years ago.

The inside features beautifully-designed carbon seats that look very similar to the Ferrari Enzo’s, a carbon dashboard and various other carbon parts, together giving it a suprisingly high quality, but also quite “raw” cabin feel. This is obviously a car from the mechanical age so the interior doesn’t feature touchscreens of any kind, rather solid buttons that you push and turn. What it didn’t offer either was much luggage space., but you can squeeze in a bag behind the front seats and all the way in the back under the glass cover, there’s a leather bag fitted, slightly bigger than a briefcase – that would be the official luggage space. Then again you can always buy what you need when you arrive, especially if you arrive as fast as would (theoretically) be the case with the 8C. Unfortunately however, there are a couple of things that may hamper that progress.

What looks like plastic is carbon fibre – raw…

The first is not very surprisingly the gearbox. The 8C comes from the time before double-clutches, meaning the semi-automatic 6-speed box is a bit slow and not very smooth neither in manual, nor auto mode. The second is unfortunately the ride, which is said to be quite harsh and not very composed. Finally, the breaks are not comparable to anything in modern supercars, especially not ceramic ones. The thing is however that when you put your foot down you forget about all of that, because when the sound of the 4.7 litre Masserati engine starts to build all the way up to the limit at 7500 rpm, you’re in heaven. We’ve all heard the same engine in the Grand Turismo where it was introduced shortly after, and it doesn’t sound any less in the 8C. Actually it probably sounds a bit more, given its lower weight and the not very noise-isolating carbon interior.

Beautiful engine sitting behind the front axle

At EUR 150′ back in 2006, the 8C was quite competitively priced for what it offered, and as mentioned the 500 cars produced were sold very quickly. Alfa didn’t increase the production run but rather brought the 8C Convertible to the market in 2009, but doing so they also increased the price quite massively, making it far less of a good deal than the 8C was. They built another 500 as convertibles in 2009 that all sold, both in Europe and in the US. And even if the 8C marked Alfa’s return to the US market, as so often Alfa didn’t really manage to build on it so that it took another few years until the brand returned for real, then with the 8C’s younger and smaller brother, the 4C.

The 8C is thus one of the best-looking and best-sounding supercars out there even today, and in good Alfa tradition, slightly compromised. As mentioned it’s also one of very few Alfas worth more today than what they were as new. In spite of the limited production run you actually find quite a few cars in the market, more convertibles than coupés, with prices today typically between EUR 250′-300′. At that price point the supercar alternatives are plentiful, and it’s hard to argue that the 8C is a better buy than many of the other cars out there. But if you want something unique that you definitely won’t see on every corner, and which has a sound making any kind of stereo system completely unnecessary, then the 8C is definitely the car for you!

Winter street finds: the Aston Martin DB6!

As some of my readers know, my 18-year old son spends this winter as a ski instructor in the Swiss Alps (yes I know, lucky guy). I’ll take credit for teaching him to ski well enough to become a ski instructor, and also for transmitting enough particles of the car virus to him so that he keeps his eyes and ears open at the sight (or sound) of something interesting on four wheels. During this winter I’ve thus gotten regular reports and pictures that have clarified things such as my new beloved Range Rover being no more special in this part of the country than a Skoda Octavia, and some people thinking a Lambo Aventador is so suitable for driving on snow that they fly it in from the Middle East. Be that as it may, the picture he sent me last week beats everything: an Aston Martin DB6, parked outside a fancy hotel with several pairs of newly used, modern skis on the roof. This, my friends, is true class!

An Aston Martin DB6 in Gstaad, Switzerland, in February…

The DB6 was the culmination of the part of the DB series which started with the DB4 and was followed by the legendary Bond car, the DB5. The DB6 is less well-known than its predecessor and was built between 1965 and 1971. It’s arguably the most mature of the three cars, with a body which is around 10 cm longer than the DB5, giving it slightly different proportions but above all more room in the back and boot. Officially described as a 2+2, the DB6 will seat four people and in addition carry their luggage. The longer rear ends with a spoiler lip and was referred to as Kammback by Aston, and it wasn’t to everyone’s liking at the launch of the car. The body was designed by the Italian design house Superleggera as a handwritten badge on the side will tell you. Even if everyone didn’t like it then, I believe most would agree today that it’s one of the most beautiful historical Astons around.

The so called Kammback wasn’t to everyone’s liking

The engine is a 4-litre, 6-cylinder unit with tripple carburettors and around 280 hp in the regular version, with another 40 or so in the equally available Vantage version. The base car was good for a top speed of over 240 km/h, a truly scary prospect in a car from the 60’s, even one that drives and brakes as well as the DB6 is said to do. The sound is what you would expect from a 4-litre machine with three carburettors, meaning absolutely fantastic. Most cars have a 5-speed manual gearshift but somewhat surprisingly, an automatic was also available. The large, wooden steering wheel is surrounded notably by a switch allowing you to adjust the rear suspension, a feature taken over from the DB5 but which helps illustrate that Aston was at the top of their game back in the 60’s (somewhat less so today if you ask me).

The wonderful 4-litre straight six, with the carburettors in the back

The original DB cars carry not only the founder David Brown’s initials, but actually the full name as part of the emblem. Brown was a converted tractor builder (clearly a useful background if you want to become a supercar builder, given he shared it with Ferrucio Lamborghini!). What Brown put together in the DB6 was a beautiful creation of which a total of around 1800 were built. There was a Mk II from 1968 and onwards, looking a bit beefier than the car on the initial picture which in other words was produced during 1965-67. There was also a Volante, i.e. a convertible, of which only 140 were built, and independent coachbuilders also built a small number of shooting brakes on the DB6 chassis. The likelihood of ever seeing one of those is… small, and should you wish to park a nicely restored DB6 in your garage, that will cost you around EUR 350′-400′. Then again, that’s only roughly half of what a DB5 is – but it’s also three times more than a perfect E-type of any type, which we looked at a few weeks ago (see here if you missed it).

I bet those seats still have the original leather smell!

My son says the DB6 he saw originated in Savoie (France), not sure how he came to that conclusion as the number plate doesn’t look French. If this guy or girl really lives in the mountainous region of Savoie and uses his DB6 as winter daily driver, then let’s just pray it’s had a thorough corrosion protection treatment, as spring otherwise risks revealing many (negative and expensive) surprises! Then again, given how clean it is, maybe the car was just there for some kind of show and the skis on the roof as well, even if they were modern – because no one classy enough to drive a DB6 would put skis on the roof with the tips facing forward, would they? I guess we’ll never know…

Enzo’s favourite Jaguar!

There are lots of stories in the classic car world, some true, others not. One of the better ones is about the legendary Ferrari Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, who when he first saw the car we’ll look at today at its initial presentation in the spring of 1961, referred to it as “the most beautiful car that has ever been built”. Now before you spend too much time trying to figure out which Ferrari he was referring to, let me spare you the effort by telling you that Enzo wasn’t referring to a Ferrari at all, but rather to the latest creation from Coventry – the Jaguar E-Type (XK-E for those of you in the US). Of course Enzo was right. Not only is the E-Type a true legend of the car world, it’s also exactly what he (supposedly) said, i.e. one of the most beautiful cars ever built, until this day. At the time of its launch, it was also one of the fastest and most modern production cars in the world, boosting power and acceleration numbers that remain impressive until this day. And seen over its full production, it’s also one of the most succesful sports cars ever built. The car enthusiast that hasn’t dreamt about driving and owning an E-Type hasn’t been born, so it’s about time to take a closer look at it!

Initially the E-Type wasn’t supposed to be the famous road car it became during its 14 years of production, but rather to succeed the D-Type as a racing car. The D-Type had been hugely successful on the racing scene, notably winning the 24h in Le Mans three years in a row between 1955 and 1957. It was Jaguar’s first car with a self-supporting body frame and no longer a ladder frame solution (basically meaning that the engine was carried directly by the body subframe, notably saving weight), and the E-Type took over this and other solutions. In the end it didn’t succeed the D-Type as a pure racing car, although it has obviously been used for racing many times through the years. Instead it replaced the ageing XK 150 as Jaguar’s new sports coupé and roadster.

The D-Type, to this day a successful racing car

The E-Type was first shown to the world in the spring of 1961, more precisely in March at the Auto Salon in Geneva. As we know from previous stories notably on the wonderful Bizzarrini, car shows at the time were slightly less organized than in these days, and Jaguar was fighting against the clock to have the exhibition car ready in time. In the end the firm’s PR manager Bob Berry had to drive the car from Coventry to Geneva, arriving only 20 minutes before the show started. The reception was so overwhelming that Berry had to call Jaguar’s legendary test driver Norman Dewis and ask him to drive down a second car overnight. Dewis did so in 11 hours, averaging at a speed of 110 km/h (whoever said some things weren’t better before?!?). This obviously only added ot the E-Type’s glory and Jaguar sold around 500 cars directly at the show.

They made it – just in time!

The car’s design is truly unique, with a bonnet that looks like it makes up more than half the car (around a third is closer to the truth), and which has sometimes been referred to as the extension of a certain male organ. Be that as it is, there’s a fantastic elegance in the proportions and also a lightness to the whole design, which serves the car well given it weighed in at 1200-1300 kgs. As we’ll see below there’s always been a roadster and a coupé available and although the roadster certainly provides more driving thrills, the (short) coupé is to me clearly the most harmonious design.

During its 14 years of construction, the E-Type was produced in three series, 1, 2 and 3 (or rather, when the Series 2 was started, the previous cars started to be referred to as Series 1). Being an English car from the sixties there are a lot of special series in addition to that, but this is not the place for a complete overview of all different models and types and I’m also not the right person to give you a complete overview. I’ll limit myself to summarizing the main series and their differences below.

  • The initial E-Type is by many considered the purest of all versions. It’s notably the only type that has the well-known glass covers over its headlamps. The 3.8 litre, 6-cylinder engine with 265 hp was the only thing taken over from the XK 150, with other parts coming from the D-Type or having been developed for the car. It’s worth mentioning the rear axle with individual suspension which was an advanced and very modern construction that was kept well into the XJ series many years later, and which was a crucial part in the E-Type’s excellent road-handling. The Series 1 was available as a two-seater coupé and convertible and the first 500 cars had a so called flat floor, meaning less leg room. Needless to say how sought after they are, as are early cars with external bonnet latches. In 1965 the first series had its engine volume increased to 4.2 litres, giving more torque although not more power, and in 1966 a 22 cm longer coupé version with two reclining seats was added, referred to as 2+2. These versions were built until 1967.
A Series 1 convertible in all its beauty
  • The so called Series 1.5 essentially looked like the previous cars but had the headlamp glass covers removed to provide better light but especially to get approval in the US (basically the same problem Citroën had with the DS in the US). It was also American emission regulations that led Jaguar to replace the three SU carburettors with Zenith-Stromberg units, meaning a power reduction of around 20 hp on US cars.
  • The Series 2 only saw minor modifications to the 1.5 and is most distinguishable by its wrap around bumpers and diferent grille. Series 2 cars were built until 1971.
  • In 1971 the Series 3 saw the introduction of the 5.3 litre V12 producing 272 hp, along with improved breaks and steering. Four Zenith carburettors helped the car to a sub-seven seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of around 250 km/h. Very impressive numbers, but only a slight improvement to the six-cylinder versions. The benefits of the V12 were rather the 12-cylinder character and sound… The short coupé was discontinued with only the 2+2 seater and the roadster now built until the production ended. Series 3 cars are identifiable notably by the larger grille, flared arches giving room for larger wheels, and the four exhaust pipes.
A Series 2 short coupé with the side-opening luggage door

Through the sixties and into the seventies until the end of production in 1974, the E-Type was one of the fastest sports cars in production. It was also one that drove well thanks notably to the mentioned rear suspension but also its four disc breaks, something neither the Italians, nor for example Mercedes-Benz had at the time. The engines, provided they were serviced well, were reliable, with the V12 being more or less unbreakable, but again provided it was properly serviced and maintained. Given the E-Type cost roughly half of for example a Ferrari 275 at the time it was hugely successful, with over all series more than 70.000 cars produced, most of which in the first series.

It’s a few years since I had the pleasure to drive an E-type for the only time so far, more precisely a 4.2 litre convertible. I will never forget that long bonnet that seemed to go on forever, the low seating position with the large steering wheel, and then of course the sound from the six-cylinder. I had my TR4 at the time and let’s just say this was a different story. Driving-wise the car is impressive but commends respect given the powerful engine, but the precise steering and powerful disc breaks still give a feeling of control. My friend who owned and still owns the car confirmed my impressions, but also the amount of work that seemed to go into it on a regular basis, which brings us to buying and owning an E-Type.

The interior certainly keeps up with the exterior!

Finding the right car is mainly about three things: rust, engine maintenance and series. Rust is probably the most serious issue and a very common problem, and the monocoque constrution makes it especially critical in certain areas. Any car needs to be inspected carefully also from underneath and ideally with the help of a specialist. As long as he’s there he can then also have a look at the engine, which as said doesn’t usually cause any problems as long as it’s well maintained. Adjusting both the six-cylinder, but especially the 12-cylinder is however a job for those who know, and if you don’t, you will want to know someone who knows! Finally the different series are about taste. Generally first series cars are most popular with their design being considered the purest and most beautiful. Many prefer the original 3.8 litre engine, claiming it’s more responsive and happier to rev than the larger 4.2, probably a matter of taste. The 2+2 coupé with its 22 cm longer body takes some getting used to and is arguably the least attractive design. Between the convertible and the short coupé it’s really a matter of taste, and there is also no meaningful price difference with our without roof.

Finding an E-Type is not difficult, but perfectly preserved or restored cars have reached if not astronomical, then at least ambitious prices. On the good side though, they are still only half or even less as expensive as comparable Ferraris! Good, original cars with some patina start at EUR 90′-100′, with no upper limit depending on condition but even more on the in some cases very limited series. An early 3.8 litre Series 1 is probably where I would put my money but I can obviously see the attraction not only of the V12 but also of the improvement on later cars. Again, the V12 doesn’t have to be a quick way to bankruptcy and is more solid than the 6-cylinder, but it will require more maintenance, and slightly more fuel… Whichever you choose you’ll be driving a true legendary car, one that is never out of place, and that is even more beautiful than the tailor-made Italian suits Enzo Ferrari used to wear!

The other “almost” Porsche!

Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from mid-December on the wonderful Mercedes-Benz E 500 (or 500 E depending on construction year) that I modestly called “The world’s best… car?” given at least at the time, it was just that. You’ll also remember that the 500 E was assembled by Porsche who had more spare factory capacity than money in the early 90’s. It was however a true Mercedes, built from Mercedes parts and not, as some will have you believe, an “almost” Porsche.

Contrary to the 500 E, Porsche was far more active in the construction of another true legend from the same period that was developed on the basis of an Audi. I’m of course talking about the Audi RS2 which not only started a wonderful series of RS models to come, but can also be said to be the first car in the today very popular segment of sports combis (estate wagons for some of you, but I’ll use combi throughout). More than enough reasons to look at it closer today!

Not spectacular but purposeful – if you know, you know.

The basis of the RS2 was of course the Audi 80 Avant, a conservatively styled, smaller combi from the early 90’s and one of the first models in Audi’s transformation from a brand for grandpas to the cool auto-maker it has become today. Audi and Porsche worked jointly on the project of developing the RS2, which distinguished itself visually from its less powerful siblings notably by its front and rear RS fenders developed by Porsche, its larger breaks with red calipers also from Porsche and branded as such, and its 17″ Porsche wheels. These as well as the exterior mirrors were identical to the Porsche 964, and the rear lightbar going over the whole back is also said to have taken its inspiration from the 964. Together with the fact that the whole car sits lower made it look like a very special Audi 80 indeed! The interior didn’t disappoint either with its bi-color, leather-alcantara combination in black-blue or black-grey (a fully black interior was an option), its Recaro seats and its white dials. If you know the Audi 80 it will feel very familiar, but still special enough – as it should.

I struggle to think of anything more you would need!

Even more exciting is of course what Porsche did with the 5-cylinder, 2.2 litre engine that came from the S2 and originally developed 230 hp. Thanks notably to a larger turbo and intercooler, better engine management and a beefier exhaust system, performance was increased to 315 hp and a torque of 410 Nm. This may not sound like much today and of course it isn’t, however the RS2 Avant only weighed 1600 kg, far less than most power combis today, meaning 315 hp were enough for a top speed over 260 km/h and around 5.5 seconds to 100 km/h. Audi’s legendary quattro system helped bring the power onto the road and the RS2 was equipped both with a Torsen differential and a rear-axle differential, which could be activated up to 25 km/h. Combined with a manual six-speed box this was pretty much as good as it got in the mid-90’s, and it ranks pretty far up there still today!

As mentioned the RS2 was perhaps the first representative of the segment of power combis, and it was quite revolutionary at the time in the way it handled. Of course and RS2 doesn’t feel like a 911, but it also feels nothing like an Audi 80 – in a good sense. Not only the power but also the handling and the preciseness of the whole package was revolutionary in the mid-90’s in a car which over 4.5 metres offered enough room for four people and their luggage, but it’s of course one we’ve seen many times since. Remember though that 25 years ago, these sensations were achieved without a lot of software that help correct less perfect set-ups and excessive body fat!

Probably not how most owners use them today – but you certainly can!

The RS2 was available in 11 colors but the one typically associated with the car (and also the hardest one to come by today) is the so called Nogaro blue that you can still spec your RS with today. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was always only available as a combi, but actually four (!) RS2 sedans/hatchbacks were built as well. One of these is today in the Audi museum, two apparently somewhere in the Middle-East, and the location of the fourth is unknown.

If you’re in the market for an RS2, I suggest you forget about those an focus on the Avant. That certainly makes it easier and less expensive, but a good RS2 is still not easy to come by, and certainly not a bargain. Of the almost 3000 built between 1994-1996, many have not survived and others are of course cherished by their owners. There are currently 11 for sale in all of Germany and three here in Switzerland, which price-wise come in somehwere between EUR 60′-80′. Whether that’s a good deal or not is up to you, but the RS2 certainly deserves its place among 90’s icons as the first of a legendary range of RS models and a power combi in the purest sense!

Almost 30 years of wonderful RS cars!

The Ferrari F8 is a supercar “bargain”!

If last week was all about the classic 911, today will be about something completely different, namely one of the latest creations from the legendary auto maker a bit further south, in Maranello. Ferrari has built many fantastic cars through the years and some of these have today reached truly astronomical valuations. All haven’t however and as all enthusiasts know, saying in advance which car will not only procure an immense driving pleasure (for this writer always the priority!) but also be a good investment is if not impossible, then at least very difficult, except of course for the very limited, small series versions. So without claiming to have any form of chrystal ball, today we’ll look at the Ferrari F8, a car that is still being built and I believe is perhaps one of the best supercar deals you can currently make.

Aggressive, purposeful, beautiful: the F8 Tributo

The F8 is a bit of a strange animal, namely something as rare as a facelift of a facelift. The line starts with the 458 introduced back in 2010, followed by the (face-lifted) 488 in 2015 and then from 2019 the F8 as Tributo (coupé) and Spider. In between there was however also the 488 Pista introduced in 2018, the lightweight version of the 488 and a car that in several aspects is close to the F8. The completely bonkers 3.9 litre, triple-turbo V8 engine with 720 hp and 770 Nm of torque is one of them, as are many other parts as well. Compared to the Pista, the F8 is however a very different drive, a much smoother and far less racy experience. And as I write this, the price difference between the two is huge, making the F8 an interesting proposition also compared to its most comparable predecessor.

Double rear lights and a hood with vibes from the F40!

In terms of design it takes at least a slightly trained eye to spot the difference between the 488 and the F8. It’s a matter of taste which front you find more purposeful, but the new design elements of the F8 contribute to 15% more downforce. Most would also agree that the F8’s rear where the double lights have been reintroduced looks better and contributes to a more aggressive look than on the 488. Noticeable is also the slatted, transparent engine cover in deference to another legendary V8 turbo-equipped Ferrari, the F40. The interior has an updated look compared to the 488, but this is not the fully digital experience: no big screens dominate the interior and most functions are still accessed through classic controls. The LED steering wheel helping you to perfect shifts on the track is standard in most markets but not in all, and it’s an option you should make sure is there.

The LED steering wheel is a “necessary” option

The F8 is thus one hell of a car, but is it a future classic? That’s a question I can’t answer, but there are a few reasons to think that it’s a surprisingly good investment in the segment of true supercars and thus at least potentially a good deal. The first of those is no doubt the engine. You see, the F8 is the last Ferrari – ever – to have a combustion V8 not combined with some kind of hybrid solution. You could say that it’s the culmination of the mid-engined V8 Ferrari concept that has been around for almost 50 years, since the legenday 308. The F8 may not sound as wonderful as a naturally aspirated 8- or 12-cylinder from Maranello, but then again you can’t have it all, and the power will certainly not disappoint anyone!

The culmination of Ferrari combustion V8’s!

Next to the engine the current price point is interesting, with pre-owned F8 Tributos starting at around EUR 250′-260′. Depending on options, this is at or slightly below the price as new. This is especially interesting as the F8 Spider trades at a clear premium and the large spread between the two isn’t really warranted. If it converges, chances are that it’s on the upside for the Tributo. It’s even more of a bargain if you compare the Tributo to the 488 Pista where you’ll be lucky to find a good car for EUR 100′ more. The McLaren 720, probably the most logical non-Ferrari competitor, is also at least 10% more expensive. In summary, Tributos may not start to climb in price tomorrow, especially as long as they are still being built, but there’s good reason to believe that cars currently on the market will hold their value well and that this could be an interesting entry point in a longer perspective.

The Spider currently commands a bit too much of a premium

Finally a point that is valid for the 458 and 488 as well, namely that since 10 years Ferrari offers a 7-year service package on most models including the 458, the 488 and the F8, actually extendable to 14 years in total and following the car, not the owner. This obvioulsy does wonders for the cost of owning. Most F8’s will also still be within the 3-year factory guarantee time which can also be extended. As the F8 is a better car than the 458/488, the risk of owning one of the best supercars out there has thus never been lower.

If you agree with me on the above and decide that life is too short not to own a supercar and if you don’t plan to use it on track every week, then the F8 is a great choice – under a few conditions. Choose your colour wisely and if the cheapest F8 on the market is blue with a greeen interior, don’t buy it. Also, do make sure the car has certain key options. The list is basically endless especially in terms of various carbon applications, but some of these definitely help brighten up especially the interior. The LED steering wheel does so as well, as does the JBL audio system. If you complement that with the reverse camera, the lift system and the sports seats, you have yourself a nice package with the last non-hybrid, non fully-digital Ferrari that gives you all the driving pleasure. Time to start browsing!

A life-long passion for the 911

I’ve been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started with counting antennas on cars from a very young age and has grown exponentially (as virologists love to put it these days) ever since. My interest has always been general in nature, basically as reflected in the content of this blog. I can feel just as passionately about a beautiful oldtimer or an 80’s legend as about a modern supercar. That’s not the case for everyone though. For many, their love of cars is tied to one particular model, one of which they know all there is to know and which follows them through the years. I don’t know which category you fit in, but since a few weeks I know which one my friend Philip belongs to. His category is the one of air-cooled 911 passionistas, and his story is a wonderful one of true passion for the Zuffenhausen legend. We therefore sat down for lunch back in December for me to understand how his life-long interest developed.

Philip lives in Zurich and I’ve known him for many years. Coming from a Swiss-Swedish family, he grew up in Sweden but spent a lot of time in Switzerland around the capital Berne but also in beautiful Ascona in the southern, Italian-speaking part. As newly retired, he today splits his time between Zurich and Ascona, when the weather allows using his tangerine-coloured (blood orange) 1972 911 2.4T. The way there has however been a long one that starts in Philip’s young years in the Swedish town of Uppsala, as Swedish readers (and potentially some others) may know an unspectacular mid-sized Swedish city mostly known for its university and certainly not for its car scene, and even less so back in the 60’s. This stood in stark contrast to Ascona where back in the day, Pilip tells me you regularly saw Lamborghini Miuras and Ferrari 365 (Daytonas) on the streets. It wasn’t one of these that would become the passion of Philip’s life though – it was the 911 2.4T Targa his neighbours in Uppsala had parked outside their house, one of less than a handful 911’s in the whole town. At first it was the sound of the air-cooled engine that captivated him, so different from the Italian beauties. Then there was also the fact that the neighbours drove their car all year around, very much unlike anything you would do with the Italian fullbloods, had they ever seen the Uppsala winter climate.

Uppsala in the 1960’s – very far from Ascona…

The 911 2.4 was presented in the German auto magazine Auto, Motor & Sport nr 23/71. It was Philip who told me this, he was 14 years old at the time and the reason he still knows is that he kept that number of the magazine for more than 30 years. His grandmother in Switzerland sent it to him and with at the time a very limited grasp of German, Philip went over it time and time again until he understood it. The seeds had been sown but it would take more than 20 years and a number of other cars for the dream to result in Philip’s first own 911. By now he had moved to Switzerland and met a car dealer outside of Zurich, one of those you would go to when you needed a special car. Of course he knew “just the car” when hearing that Philip wanted a 911, but when Philip heard that “just the car” in the dealer’s view was a 1987 white convertible with a blue top, he wasn’t fully convinced.

In fact the dealer had found not only one but three 911’s and had lined them up in a nice diagonal outside his shop by the time Philip arrived. With the late afternoon sun shedding its mellow light on the street, it was immediately clear to Philip that he white one with the blue top was indeed THE car. it was a 1987 911 3.2 and a US import meaning it was equipped with A/C and an electric top, both quite rare options in Europe. He would enjoy and love every moment of his first 911 for eight years until 2002 but by then, he had his sight set on something else – an original 911 Speedster. This also tells you that Philip didn’t collect cars. Being of a practical nature his line of reasoning is clearly that you can’t drive more than one car at any time. That’s usually a sensible approach but as we’ll see, when it comes to old 911’s, things are a bit different….

A 1987 964 3.2 cab in white, although Philip’s was blue inside

Today an original 911 Speedster is beyond most people’s budgets, but you need only to go back 20 years for that to be different. Philip went about finding the Speedster in precisely the right way. He consulted the dealer from eight years earlier who of course knew of exactly the right car and was happy to join Philip on the two-hour drive to check it. When they arrived he told Philip to stay in the car. “I’ll take care of this” is all he said. An hour passed, Philip grew impatient and went up towards the seller’s house but when he was about to knock, the dealer opened the door and said “I’m almost done with him”. Luckily the indicated violence was at most psychological but it did result in a final price of around CHF 90.000, a good price at the time and obviously a bargain today. What will always remain a secret is how much the seller really got and how much the dealer took in between…

If Philip had loved his first 911 deeply, the Speedster wasn’t his thing at all. The car that is a dream to many of us was in his view impractical, extremely loud and with a top that would let water in when it rained. So he went on to sell it a few years later, unfortunately before prices started to climb. He got his money back though and what followed was two far more practical 964’s and also a -94 964 WTL, a 30-year limited 911 series. Philip then switched to a 993 that he kept for eight years and with which he participated in several classic rallies. Other regular participants in those events included 356’s and original 911’s (Urelfer), and it was when seeing one of these that it dawned on him: what he really wanted and subsequently set out to get was the car which had started his love story with the 911 in the first place: an early -72-73′ 190 hp 911 2.4S. This was the most powerful of the three models sold at the time, with the 2.4E (165 hp) and 2.4T (130 hp) being the other two (the T actually put out 140 hp in the US version where like the S and E, it was fuel injected).

A nice Speedster starts at around EUR 200′ these days

I consider myself a relatively experienced used car buyer, and anything else would certainly be pretty disappointing given how many cars have come and gone through the years. And yet, compared to a real expert such as the one Philip called upon when deciding to find the perfect 911 2.4S, I’m not even a beginner. There are people out there who know everything there is to know about a car and by that, I really mean everything. Philip’s expert whom he subsequently travelled around Europe with in search of the perfect 2.4S (and whom he met through the 964 WTL mentioned above) would not only notice residual marks from an engine number having been scraped off, but also that the new stars that had been engraved didn’t have the right number of arms. He would notice very minor chassis imbalances and imperfections and would use a tool to check the thickness of the paint in different places as an indication of potential body repairs. He would use surgical instruments in investigations of rust in every hidden body pocket. He would do it all. And of course, if you do it all, finding the perfect car is a near impossibility. This is what Philip noted as well, as potential candidates came and went over the coming years, none being good enough in the expert’s view.

I think there are a couple of lessons to be learnt here for all those in search of their dream car. Firstly, whilst you should always make sure to buy a fundamentally healthy and non-accidented car, you need to define your tolerance for imperfections, both visual and in documentation. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find the perfect car with a complete documentation, that requires not only true expertise but also (lots of) time and money. Not only that, when you finally get your hands on the perfect item, will you still dare to drive it and participate in those oldtimer gatherings and rallies you dreamt about, or will it just sit in your garage? On the other side of this spectrum there are the “rally pros” who don’t care too much about the looks, only being concerned by the mechanics. They certainly rev their engines and drive their cars hard, but the cars don’t necessarily look as they were meant to. In between these extremes is where most classic cars would land. This is where my old Triump TR4 was: a nice car but with visual imperfections, and lots of documents, but not all. An expert would thus have found many faults with it, yet for the use I made of it during close to ten years it was perfect. If you’re able to define your level of tolerance ahead of, or early in the buying process, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour!

Whether THE perfect car is original or not is a matter of taste

Secondly, although it should be obvious but isn’t always as we humans tend to be social creatures, the seller is not your friend. He won’t be coming to any dinner parties and you won’t meet his wife. His objective is another than yours, namely to get as much money from you as fast as possible. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone person selling a car is dishonest and deserves to be treated as such, but believing everything a seller says can also be a recipe for disaster. A case in point was one of the 911’s my friend Philip looked at, the one where the old engine number had been removed and a new “matching numbers” one had been engraved, however with incorrectly engraved stars. This car was sold by a well reputed Porsche dealership in Switzerland, not by some back yard dealer. They claimed not being aware of the problem which was maybe true, who knows. The point is obviously that if you pay for matching numbers you should get that, just as you should get whatever else the seller claims to be selling. If you’re unsure, get someone to help you, as you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry.

With each car Philip visited with his expert friend his own knowledge obviously grew as well so that he also started to look at cars on his own, at least for the first round. Doing that and I guess also growing a bit impatient about finding his car and thus increasing his personal tolerance level, he enlargened his search somewhat and also included potential 2.4T’s and 2.4E’s. Doing that he would finally find his dream car, the tangerine 911 2.4T that has been his ever since. It looked perfect to him and once the expert got to see it, even he didn’t find more than some minor imperfections. Today Philip is an active owner and driver, notably participating in classic rallies and a member in the Swiss Porsche Urelfer Club, taking part in their various events. He’s optimized his car somewhat, notably with sports seats (not originals but replicas close enough for anyone but a real expert to be fooled…), and he certainly doesn’t sound like he would be selling the car any time soon.

Philip in his car during a 911 gathering

As we reached the end of our lunch I was thinking to myself that this was perhaps where this long love story with the air-cooled 911 that started on the snowy streets of Uppsala 50 years earlier comes to an end. As I put my pen down, Philip looked at me and said “you have to understand, the 911 is much more than a car to me, it’s a life-long passion”. I was certainly convinced by then, but at the same time this gave me a glimmer of hope. As all of us suffering from the car virus know, Philip may think this is his last 911, but you can never be sure. Before leaving the table, I therefore made sure that if he changes his mind and decides to sell his beautiful 2.4T, he lets me know first!

An English lord has moved in!

Regular readers of this blog may remember my somewhat confused reflections around what is the perfect family car from back in October, after I had sold my XC90 and was looking to replace it. In that post I made a pretty clear case for the superiority of a station wagon over an SUV except for those living in a snowy place or otherwise needing real offroad capabilities. I also pointed out that buying a 500 hp SUV doesn’t make much sense at all given such an engine comes more to its right in a car with a lower center of gravity – i.e. a station wagon. Well, what can I say? I’ve replaced the XC90, that much is true, but somehow I forgot the rest of what I wrote back then…

To be honest, I was really set on buying a station wagon. Those that felt a bit special and that were on my list did however all have the racing attributes of my old E63 AMG that I didn’t want. I’d also point out that I haven’t changed my mind on the “M” or “AMG”-like SUV’s out there, they really don’t make much sense. Finally I also decided not to break the bank this time, at least not at the point of purchase. As all enthusiasts know running costs are less painful, and also less visible to those that may have differing opinions on how family money is to be spent… So within those parameters, I finally found something that felt very special indeed. It’s not a station wagon but rather the most famous SUV of them all. It’s also not built in Stuttgart but rather in Solihull, in the middle of the UK. Since a couple of months, I’m the happy owner of a Range Rover L405, more exactly a 2015 5.0 V8 SC Autobiography in black on black. And so far, I absolutely love it!

It’s big, black and bloody nice!

I’ve never really had Range on my real list of candidates but every time I experienced one (and I’ve actually driven all generations of the Range), I remember it to this day as something quite unique and special, with many positive memories and associations. As things happen, it was by coincidence that I saw a big Range on the road and realized I didn’t know what they were trading at (which is rare for this writer). The very same day the snow fell heavily and my son landed a job as ski instructor in the Alps, meaning I would need to drive him there with a bed and some other stuff. After all we do live in Switzerland, so maybe an SUV wasn’t too bad after all, and maybe, just maybe, it could be a Range? The plan took shape as I realized that budget-wise, it would be possible to find “the” car within what I had set as limit.

In terms of models it could never be anything else than the big Range for me, meaning the L405, built since 2012 and not replaced by a new model until this year (the new Range being rolled out as I write this but the waiting list is apparently at least two years because of the delivery issues of components we all know of by now). I guess a good testament to the design of the L405 is that although the new model is a brand new car, it’s also immediately recognizable. The L405 only received some very minor face-lifts through its life, the most important being the introduction of a more digital cockpit in 2017 and the new engine line-up with a hybrid solution a couple of years later. I didn’t feel the premium these model years command were worth it, and the hybrid solution around a four-cylinder petrol engine didn’t feel very convincing. Speaking to people who know, it also didn’t sound like it was the right engine for the car. 2015 was a good compromise as initial hickups had been sorted by then without any price premium over previous model years.

Those turbine wheels are 22″ and nothing for the handyman…

The design has thus held for more than a decade and is both elegant and timeless with a presence like few other cars (and none of its smaller siblings), and the engines have also been around a while. I disregarded the petrol-six straight away as everyone with experience seem to agree it’s too small for the car and because of that is the most issue-prone, notably with a cambelt rather than a chain as on the larger engines. That left the 8-cylinder, 4.4 litre diesel with 340 hp and all the torque you could wish for, and the 5-litre petrol, supercharged V8 with 510 hp. In Europe the diesel probably makes up around 70-80% of production with the petrol V8 taking perhaps 10%. Of course that petrol V8 is also a representative of the club of fabulous engines that will never be built again…

I drove both and although the diesel certainly makes sense for the car type, and especially for those towing regularly, the petrol makes the car feel much lighter and dynamic. Its instantaneous response is much more attractive than the inevitable initial lag of the diesel and if you push it, the petrol exhibits quite a sporty character. Obviously that’s not the proper way to drive a Range, and this is also why this is not another 500 hp sporty SUV. The car basically incites you to proceed with grace, meaning the engine will most of the time the engine humm between 2′-2.5′ rpm and not be pushing you to floor it. The power is always there should you need it and when you do, both the sound and the acceleration are all you could ever ask for. To me, that’s the perfect combination and exactly what I was looking for. And yes, you pay a price for this at the pump but not as high as some would have you believe. In a mix of city, country and motorway at legal speed + inflation, I’m currently averaging around 13 litres. It wasn’t less in my E63 AMG.

A wonderful engine of a type we’ll never see again!

Size of engine is one thing, size of the whole car another. No doubt the Range is a big car, but appearances are also treacherous. At just under 5 metres it’s not longer than most full-sized SUV’s, and it’s not more than 3-4 cms wider. The difference is in the height of 183 cm which also makes it look big. The flip side of that is of course next to space also the unequalled seating position and visibility. The inside also illustrates quite well that the priority has been put on passenger comfort over maximum luggage space. Sure, the car has a large boot, but the emphasis has clearly been on cabin space and creating a luxury transport for four. The space up front is great, the comfort in the electrically-adjustable back seats even better. Range Rover have perfectioned this art ever since the first Range in the early 70’s, and today’s result is nothing but sensational.

The higher seating position combined with large glass areas means your visibility is unequalled. The suspension comfort is sublime, as is the 29-loudspeaker Meridien sound system. And then there’s the materials which make it very clear that plastic isn’t something the guys up in Solihull think should be used in the interior of a car unless strictly necessary. I’ve driven most and probably sat in all premium SUV’s on the market and without exagerrating I can say that the quality of materials and solidity in every detail puts a Range somewhere between the Germans and the other “RR” brand over in Crewe. It really is that good.

The best interior I’ve been in this side of Crewe!

Driving-wise I was also positively surprised. The handling, without being sporty in any way, is more neutral and less understeered than many other SUV’s around corners and sublime on longer stretches. The steering is a tad too light but surprisingly precise. And then there’s obviously the off-road capabilities that I won’t be using, but where as a small example the virgin drive to the Alps with my son’s stuff happened in the middle of a heavy snowfall with people parked on the roadside putting on chains. Of course the Range couldn’t be bothered less. On the downside, it’s clear that if a modern infotainment unit and 37.000 nuances of interior lightning is your thing, you should look elsehwere. I find Google Maps on my phone all I need in terms of navigation, and the Range still offers five interior colours which in my book is plenty.

Slightly suprisingly, finding the right car was complicated by many candidates not having some options I didn’t want to live without, like an adaptive cruise control and head-up display which apparently isn’t stuff most Range owners find useful. The colour was also important to me, the car is elegant in many colours but I wanted a bit of a sporty feel which in my view only comes in grey or black. With this in mind I managed to locate the car you see in the pictures, a 2015 model with one previous owner, a perfect service history and a 2-year warranty from a garage really specializing in supercars and with a very strong reputation. That I think is the right way to go about it.

On this day early December, only a G-wagon and me didn’t use chains

What I also noticed during the buying process was firstly that most cars are in really good condition even with high mileage, a testament both the quality but also to the fact that first-time buyers of these usually are a bit elder (no comments here please) with enough money to service the cars properly. Secondly it’s really nice to see that there are a number of owners’ clubs that you can turn to and where you find very engaged and dedicated people who know far more about Ranges than I do and are very happy to help. It was such an owners’ club that helped me in choosing the engine option and, given the car’s somewhat mixed quality reputation, it was also the owners of Range Rovers that convinced me that this seems to be more an issue for people who actually don’t own a Range. I can of course only hope I’m right here, but a 2-year warranty is very helpful in this regard.

A diesel or petrol Range in perfect condition from model years 2014-2016 (to me the sweet spot) and with a mileage of 50.000-100.000 km will be yours for EUR 60′-70′ in Europe, a bit less than half the price as new. The problem can be finding a low mileage car as these tend to be driven long distances, but with a proper service history and a guarantee, a higher mileage isn’t really a worry. From 2017 onwards there’s at least an EUR 20′ jump in price which I don’t think is warranted all else equal (although it does get you a more modern infotainment unit). As you’ve understood by now, so far I’m really happy with my choice and it feels like the Range is the perfect complement to my 650 convertible and will stay with me a long time. Could it be that I’ve found the perfect combination? Time will tell!

The world’s best…. car?

There was a time when Mercedes-Benz was led by engineers as opposed to accountants. This notably meant that a car’s price would be determined by what it cost to build and not by what accountants and even more suspect marketing people would say it should cost. Interestingly, this period which lasted until some time around the mid-90’s (a bit of an argument here) is also when MB’reached the summit of car build quality. Stepping into an MB from this period even today is impressive and conveys a feeling of something that is truly unbreakable. Unfortunately the engineers lost out to the accountants in the end and ever since Mercedes, although good, has never rached the same level of unbreakable quality as in the golden period around the 80’s.

At the time the Stuttgart-based brand was however not only well-known for build quality but also for being especially appreciated by elderly men wearing hats. Elegant, luxurious and as said with perfect quality, sure, but nowhere on the fun-to-drive radar. So if I say W124 to you (or if you prefer early 90’s E-class), chances are that you picture an owner who has very little to do with the picture that pops up in your head when I say BMW M5 from the same period. This was a true problem for Mercedes – until the engineers decided to do something about it. The end product was called the Mercedes-Benz 500 E and is still considered by some as the best car ever built.

To understand the context we need to go back to the 70’s oil crises and the fact that Mercedes had walked right into these with the big S-class equipped with two massive V8 petrol engines at 6.3 and 6.9 litres. There was an urgent need to downsize meaning smaller engines but also building a smaller car, or as it turned out actually two, the W201 and the W124. It would have been surprising for an engineer-led company to appoint a flashy Italian to design their new car, but they did. Or at least he was Italian. Bruno Sacco was at the time working in Mercedes’s safety department and most probably had no clue how legendary he would be considered as a designer a couple of decades and a few design projects later, but those that cared to look a bit closer could already in the W124 see the genius of an engineer-safety-designer at work. How exactly? Well consider the following.

It may have looked a bit boxy but with a wind drag factor of 0.26, the W124 was one of the most aerodynamic cars ever built at the time. The back lights had ribs such as to avoid snow clogging in winter. The single-arm windshield wiper covered 83% of the windscreen and its movement meant it was never lifted off the screen by the wind at high autobahn speeds. And the two side mirrors had a different shape, not enough to disturb the overall design but just enough to ensure an optimal angle and captured area on both sides. If that isn’t good design at work, then I don’t know what is. Sure, the interior was perhaps not the most inspired ever imagined, but it was oh so solid, and everything was intuitively where you expected it to be. And on the 500 E, the squared textile used for the standard seats looked even better than the optional leather.

The W124 (and the W201) thus brought the required downsizing in an attractive and almost revolutionary design. What the new cars didn’t bring initially was however something that allowed Mercedes to compete with the BMW M5 in its home market and with the new kid on the block in the US – Lexus and its smooth V8. The solution was to be found in a heavily modified and modernized version of the inhouse V8 also used in the SL. With a power output of 320-326 hp however, it also meant that many other components had to be re-inforced, and many of these were also taken from the SL. The end result was a 500 E that was wider than a normal E-class, so wide that it no longer fitted on the production band in Mercedes’ Stuttgart factory. And that in turn meant the start of one of the most bizarre production routines of any car in any brand’s history.

Notably thanks to the new cars, Mercedes stood on pretty solid financial footing at the time, something Porsche in nearby Zuffenhausen could only dream of. With an ageing 911 and massive problems to find an accepted replacement, Porsche was on the brink of bankruptcy and looking to make money wherever they could, and since production of the 959 had ended, its production band was at a standstill. Therefore, when Mercedes called (and rumour has it some local politiciants may have lifted the phone as well) to see if Porsche could possibly help putting together the 500 E, they didn’t have to wait long for a positive answer. But this was not the case of Mercedes sending an E-class to Porsche and getting a 500 E back, far from it. It’s also not the case that Porsche helped on the development of the 500 E as they did with the Audi RS2 in the same period, and as some 500 E ads today screaming “Porsche!!” would have you believe. The 500 E was a true Mercedes car, built with Mercedes parts, that Porsche helped put together – at least partly.

A regular E-class with body and drivetrain would be delivered to Porsche who would put it together, including widening the fenders ever so discretly a couple of cm on each side. The car would then be returned to Mercedes to be painted. It would then be sent back to Porsche for fitting of all the remaining parts, and after that be returned to again Mercedes for a final quality control. Sounds overly complicated and expensive? Yes on both accounts and the process took about three weeks for each car. It also contributed to the 500 E being about 1/4 more expensive than a BMW M5. The engineers at Mercedes just shrug their shoulders and pointed to the fact that this was the true cost of building the car. In a way they were right, but luckily efficiency has improved since. Quality-wise however, those who know claim that the 500 E was even more solid than a regular E-class, as if that was possible…

I haven’t had the pleasure to drive a 500 E but speaking to people who have and having indeed heard the V8 roar, I have no problem at all believing what tests at the time also said, namely that this was a true high-performance sedan that not only looked right but also drove right, thus not only beating an M5 in outright speed. It thus brought not only what people expected of a Mercedes, but also what they didn’t and which until then had only been found in Munich.

The W124 in all its different iterations was built during 13 years between 1984 and 1997, with the 500 E as part of the production between 1990 and 1995 (called 500 E until 1993 and E 500 therafter). Two other eight-cylinder siblings are worth mentioning, the slightly de-tuned 400 E, mainly intended to compete with Lexus in the US market and built in parallel to the 500 E, and the E 60 AMG, built in 1993-1994 as a more powerful version of the 500 E. Back in the day the 400 E was the bargain of the lot, producing 40 hp and 80 Nm less but also costing DM 40.000 less. Today that’s still the case as good 400 E’s can be had for as little as EUR 15.000. The E 60 AMG was much more expensive than the 500 E as new, but also had 60 hp and 110 Nm more. Should you be lucky to find one today it will cost you far more than EUR 100.000. The 500 E comes in in between, with nice cars costing EUR 35-45.000. Interestingly the pre-facelift models until 1993 are typically more expensive than the in my view nicer looking (and arguably slightly better) post-facelift ones.

Facelift or not is obviously not where you should focus but rather on the quality of the car. Yes, they are built to last an eternity, but many have also been driven a good way towards that eternity so a complete documents and a regular service history are essential. Bringing a Mercedes expert (an engineer perhaps?) to check the car is certainly not a bad idea. After all, the engineers who built this masterpiece wouldn’t expect any less. And of course they would also assume that the car had been regularly serviced in an approved garage. If that’s indeed the case, the 500 E is a car it’s really difficult to go wrong with. It’s also the last real power sedan from Mercedes own factory, as these would be built by AMG going forward. Not more than 10.469 (out of 2.5 million W124!) 500 E / E 500 were built and irrespective of their underlying quality, many have obviously disappeared since. Is it the best car in the world? That’s as always impossible to answer, but to me it’s clearly the best performance sedan of its era. Do I want one? Jawohl!!

PS. A couple of hours ago, Max Verstappen became the new and the first Dutch F1 world champion after a very intense and in the last part, completely crazy season. Congrats Max, I’ll come back with a season summary next week!

Range Rover Classic – the grand daddy of SUV’s !

Last week I wrote about the popular trend of re-creating classic cars in their former beauty but with modern technology beneath, what is also known as restomods. One of the examples I gave was the UK firm Kingsley that does this kind of work on the first series of the Range Rover, also referred to as the Range Rover Classic. This 50-year old creation that rightfully counts as the grand daddy of all modern, luxury SUV’s is getting rare on our streets, which given its age isn’t surprising. I was however lucky not only to see one last week but also to strike up a discussion with the owner who opened my eyes to the fascinating story of this marvelous piece of UK automobile technology, that we’ll look closer at this week!

The first version of the Range Rover (hereinafter RR or Classic) was produced for almost 40 years, from 1969 to 1996. That’s remarkable in itself and among the longest production runs of any car model, but it’s also remarkable as the US market entry didn’t happen until 1987, by which time the car was 17 years old! Less known is also that during the first 11 years of existance the RR was only available in a 3-door version. The 5-door car didn’t appear until 1981 with the 3-door version being phased out in the years thereafter. It does however remain the favourite version of restorers and restomod builders, including Kingsley.

The earliest cars were all 3-door and were without c-pillar vinyl.

The Range Rover story and subsequently brand starts with the Land Rover that had been built by the Rover Group since 1948. it was a pure utalitarian car with no luxury or comfort whatsoever. As it evolved, it dawned on the Rover Group that there was appetite for a terrain-capable car that was more comfortable and a bit later in the 60’s, the first SUV-like jeeps from Ford (the Bronco) and Jeep (the Wagoneer) started appearing in the US. After having tried to develop the concept on some other models without much success in the 50’s, Rover finally bought a Bronco which served as development car for what was to become the first Range Rover, presented to the public in 1970.

The split tailgate is a feature of all RR’s since the very first.

The first RR may have been a wonder of comfort compared to a Land Rover but was obviously far from being so by any modern standard – or for that matter compared to the luxury cars of the time. It did however have something they didn’t, namely outstanding offroad capabilities, and it was of course that combination that made its success. The four-wheel drive system along with the long suspension and ground clearance made it almost as capable as a Land Rover offroad, and onroad, the Rover V8 helped it to a top speed of over 150 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of less than 15 seconds (both considered fast at the time…) while also being able to tow up to 3.5 tons. Rover referred to the RR as “a car for all reasons” and the public seemed to agree.

Luxury is certainly relative, but it was much better than a Land Rover!

There weren’t many changes to the RR during its first ten years of existance but a vinyl coverage of the c-pillars that was introduced around the mid-70’s made it easier to distinguish the really early cars. What all the 70’s cars had in common was the complicated access to the back seats given the car only had two doors. This was solved by the four-door version in 1981, with further updates in the mid-80’s including the quality of the interior, updated transmission and the front design. Moving into the 90’s the Range was getting old but still kept popular by further improvements to the suspension, the engine, and also through a long-wheel based version. As production of the Range Rover MK II started in 1994, the first generation was given the name “Classic” and remained in production for another couple of years.

A 1986, four-door car, still very recognizable as a Range Rover!

Most SUV’s sold today in Europe are of course diesel-powered but Rover had great difficulty finding a diesel engine that suited the RR. A diesel option didn’t come until 1986 and even then, although the engine was quite advanced for the time, it was seen as inferior to the petrol V8. Most Classics thus have a petrol V8 under the bonnet, something that remained the case well into the MK III. This certainly didn’t help the RR during the 70’s oil crises but even as consumption generally became more important, the Classic retained its loyal fans who wouldn’t really consider any alternatives to petrol- and still don’t!

The feeling of entering, or rather stepping up into a Range Rover is something truly special and perhaps conveyed best by the Classic. Given the old construction the pillars are very thin and the glass areas enormous, providing a brilliant view all around. You obviously sit high and although the car is large it’s not difficult to see where it starts and ends. Cars from the first years didn’t have power-assisted steering which is a bad idea, but cars after that provide a truly special driving experience, but obviously one that is far less exact and more floating than a modern SUV. It doesn’t matter as much as for some other types of oldtimers though since a RR is not one to be stressed – never was, never will be.

The interior of a 1990 car – a nice place to be!

If you want to get the genuine British tweed countrylife feel, I would claim no car does it better than a Range Rover Classic. There is a bunch of people out there who will look upon you as a complete maniac if you say you’re considering one, claiming it will fall apart the minute you’ve handed over the money. I would say sure, things can break as they can do on any old car, but the best proof of an RR’s inherent quality is that Range drivers are among the most loyal owners out there. Many of them would never consider another car, they’ve stayed with the different models through the decades and often have more than one RR. I find it very hard to believe they would do that if the car was as bad as those (who typically have never owned one) claim. In any case, there’s is no RR that has less things that can break than the first series!

The good news is that getting a good RR Classic is still quite affordable. What’s even more affordable is the MK II that came out in 1994, but would claim it’s very doubful if that car will ever claim the same classics status as the MK I, and I would definitely pick a late MK I car over a MK II. Somewhere around EUR 25.000-30.000 is where you find the really nice ones. I’d go for a later one from 1986 and onwards, but in terms of collectibles it’s clearly a three-door RR you should go for, but then again one of the later production years. If you can find one Britannia will surely rule all the way and you will just have stepped up a level in your car experience!

Winter may be here, but you won’t care!

Restomods – best of both worlds?

When I wrote about the Zurich Auto Show last week (see here if you missed it), I mentioned that a whole floor had been dedicated to the classics, mostly restored to their former glory by experts in the field either belonging to the marks, such as Mercedes-Benz Classics, or being individual outfits. I also mentioned that this floor was one of the most visited on the show, and typically so by men in their 50’s and 60’s which I guess are the typical clients for this kind of automobiles – and lucky they are!

A beautifully restored Mercedes or Ferrari from the 60’s is difficult to beat in looks, but not very hard in driving experience, at least if you’re after the relative perfection of a modern car. What I mean is that although driving a classic is a special feeling, it means driving something with inexact steering, pretty useless suspension and breaks that require a bit of planning to stop the car before it’s too late. That’s no wonder considering the cars are several decades old. In other words the driving experience hasn’t really stood the test of time, but the looks definitely have. And it’s in that junction that the concept of restomods saw the light of day.

The E-type is a popular restomod base

Restomods (the word combining “restoration” with “modern”) have been around on a somewhat larger scale for the last 4-5 years or so, but whereas they used to be confined to a barn on a yard somewhere and only be known to the real enthusiasts, their popularity has grown tremendously lately. Obviously this has also led to a multitude of manufacturers, typically focusing on different sportscars – but not only. The basic concept of a restomod is that of taking a classical design and modernizing everything below it, but quite often the design itself is also changed a bit on the way, notably with larger wheel arches and – especially – larger wheels. Most body panels may still look old but are usually new and quite often made out of carbon. Restomod builders are small outfits, in many cases building cars with unique parts as basis, which obviously means they aren’t cheap. What they provide is however a car that can be a true one of a kind, as even the largest restomod outfits only produce a few dozen cars per year.

Of all the possible candidates I’ve picked three builders as examples of the various iterations of the restomod world. The first is the most legendary of them all, specializing in the most legendary sports car of all. The second is a bunch of UK-based, Italian racing enthusiasts, and the third specializes in creating a modern driving experience for the world’s first luxury SUV. Three different cars, three different approaches, but also three different visions of what a restomod can be.

California-based Singer Vehicle Design, founded by ex-rock star Rob Dickinson, focuses on optimizing 911’s (964) according to the firm’s motto “everything is important” and the principles of “Restored – Re-imagined – Reborn”. To Singer this means starting with a 911/964 that can be transformed however the owner wants it, within the limits of the classic 911 design. Singer offers a multitude of options for the chassis, engine, suspension and body, including manufacturing specific parts in very small runs. In collaboration both with Williams and Cosworth the result is absolutely outstanding as a work of art, and journalists that have had the honour of driving the unique cars usually talk about it as allowing the 911 to reach new levels of perfection. It’s important to note that it’s not about raw power as Singers are usually around 300-350 hp. As we all know however, a great drive is about so much more than straight-line speed, and no one does it better than Singer. Also, no one does it more expensive, as prices start somewhere around USD 500′ + a 964 delivered by the client, and obviously have no upper limit – Singers have been sold for more than USD 1.5m.

Alfaholics, based in Bristol may be far from California, but is without doubt the world’s leading specialist on the Alfa 105 series. Founded by Richard Banks and today run by his two sons Mark and Andrew, the racing inspired family with a true love for the Italian brand renovate 105’s to very high standards, sell standard as well as custom-made racing parts for the 105 and some other models – and then they build the GTA-R, which can be described as the modern iteration of the 105. Just like with Singer the specification of each car is largely up to the client, but the basis is usually the classic 2-litre twin spark engine, developed to produce 240 hp. The rest of the car is completely reworked and notably through extensive use of carbon, the end result is a car that weighs 800 kg and thus can be said to have all the power anyone can ask for. It also produces all of the sound anyone could ask for, and it’s a wonderful one. Costing from around GBP 250′ and upwards, the GTA-R is a very driver-focused car, clearly better in every way than the original 105, but also very much a racing car.

Finally, something completely different. We’re now up in Warwickshire in central UK where as a child Damon Oorloff (yes, written with two oo’s) didn’t have a playground and therefore spent his time in the Land Rover factory yard. He thus grew up with what was built at the time, meaning the Defender and the first generation Range Rover, and fell in love especially with the latter. He went on to found Kingsley and has today built a business of restoring the Range Rover Classic and bringing it into the modern world in terms of technology and driving experience. This is no small achievement since the Classic is a construction from the 1950’s, so it basically means rebuilding the whole car. The extent of the work, updates and modifications is individual, however always staying within the original design and thus being the purest form of restomod, according to the original concept. The result is of course magnificent: the ultra-coolness of the original RR, combined with modern comfort and an updated driving experience. Kingsley’s start around GBP 50′ and GBP 100′ pretty much gives you the full experience.

So there we are – three different interpretations of the broad restomod concept, and three that have different objectives in mind. Singer is all about 911 perfection, but also about creating unlimited cars for unlimited budgets. Alfaholics has a clear racing focus in their builds that they share with many other restomod builders (but where most are not a the same level), and that take in this case a 60’s car to the modern racing standard. Finally Kingsley gives you a pure, classic design with modern features and an up to date driving experience.

Should you really mess with something as good as the 964?

Looking at these but also at the concept of restomods in general, I admit I’m split. Taking Singer as example, the first thing to note is that a fraction of the total budget buys you a pretty perfect 964, and at least I would be more than slightly reluctant to start re-working the original build. And if you still decide that’s the way you want to go, then you have other types of specialist such as Ruf that we looked at a while ago (see here), the provide another interpretation of the 911 concept which is also highly attractive and almost as exclusive. In the other ring corner, Kingsley transforms the RR Classic and from many angles make it a modern car – but not from all. The general body design with its overhangs, wind resistance and thereby wind noise, old-fashioned exploitation of the interior space and obviously things such as modern security thinking – all that can be improved on the margin, but essentially remains the same, as in the original, which is to say very far from a modern car.

An original 105, not as performing – but still as beautiful!

You thus need to put up with a bit if you want to make a Kingsley you daily driver. Not to mention a GT-R from Alfaholics, that in many aspects is a true race car. Of course you can drive a Singer as a daily driver if your budget is right, but for most it will probably be a Sunday car – but what a car! If a Singer is the best Sunday driver, the Alfa is clearly the best race car, whilst still not on the level of modern race cars. And the Kingsley classic RR is far better than the original car, but not as good as a modern Range Rover, making you wonder on what day of the week you should use it. My conclusion is therefore that whilst restomods are beautiful and technologically fantastic creations and I fully understand if you fall for them, I would probably rather stick to the original 964 as a daily driver and an original RR Classic for the Sunday family drive, with all its original imperfection and charm. And if I had a race track somewhere near, I sure wouldn’t mind having a GTA-R in the garage!

The other 80’s supercar legend!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the original Lamborghini Countach, one of the biggest dream cars of my generation of which a fair number of us had posters on the wall (I may have mentioned those posters often sitting alongside Samantha Fox or Sabrina…). Obviously most of us had more than one wall in our rooms and it certainly happened that on one of the others, there would be a poster of another supercar legend from the same period: the Ferrari Testarossa. The Testarossa was no doubt the Countach’s main competitor and a car that even influenced its later iterations, notably in forcing the development of a more powerful engine. And whilst referring to a Ferrari as the “other” supercar will not go down well with the Ferraristis, it just so happens that the Countach was around before the Testarossa – which doesn’t in any way make the story of the latter any less interesting, as we’ll see today!

An unmistakeable line until this day!

The Testarossa saw the light of day the first time at the Paris auto show in 1984. It was designed by Pininfarina and it’s difficult to think of a single item from the 80’s that is more representative of the era than this car. This is of course especially true for the giant, grille-covered air intakes on the sides and the fat, wide, grill-covered back, but also for the front with the typical pop-up headlights. It certainly looked the piece then and today it remains a brilliant representative of its time period. Luckily it wasn’t just about the looks though as the Testarossa was also quite a car, as we’ll come back to. Staying with the design slightly longer, another thing to remark is obviously that it’s a less dramatic car than the Countach but also that the Countach somewhat surprisingly is actually the wider car, including over the rear. At 197 cm the Testarossa is certainly not slim, but Pininfarina’s masterful design makes it look even wider than it actually is.

Early cars had a single rear view mirror high on the a-pillar, as here.

If the rear was all about design, the side air intakes actually had an important function as the radiators had been moved back and sat next to the mid-mounted engine. And the engine was of course nothing less than the Ferrari 4.9 litre, flat 12-cylinder putting out 390 hp, enough for a top speed of 290 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds. The engine certainly looks the part and the red top of the valves is also what gave the car the name Testarossa (“red head”), a name Ferrari has used before in its history. It sits slightly higher than you would expect as the gearbox is located underneath it. Everything was in other words concentrated between the cabin and the rear axle in a relatively small space. This complicates one of the more frequent jobs on the car, namely the need to change the cambelt regularly. To do this, the bad news is that you need to remove the whole engine from the car. The good news is that Ferrari actually though of making this relatively easy, but according to good sources you’re still talking about around 20 man hours of work, and that’s by a guy who knows what he’s doing. That all fades into the background though when you see the fantastic engine, presented to your eyes in the same masterful way Ferrari always does. And when you turn the key…

It doesn’t get much better!

Move to the inside, which in most cars was black or tan, and you’re again taken back to the 80’s. Certainly not an interior worthy of the price Testarossas trade at today but well of the 80’s, meaning angular forms and as in many Ferraris from back then, switches and buttons sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect them. Given how few of them there were however, that doesn’t really matter, and the poor sound isolation certainly has the benefit of letting you hear the full drama of the 12-cylinder! The car is much more modern than its predecessor, the 512 BB, and not in any way complicated to drive. It received some early criticism for being a bit light in the front at higher speeds, but that will hardly be an issue today as you probably won’t drive your 35-year old Testarossa north of 200 km/h (you certainly don’t need to go that fast to enjoy the engine!), In other words, except for the cambelt, the Redhead doesn’t have to be the nightmare to drive or maintain that many believe.

Comparing to today’s interiors, it’s amazing people got to their destination, and in one piece!

The Testarossa in its original form lived until 1991, but its life was then extended by the slightly modified and 428 hp strong 512 TR until 1994, and after that another two years through the at 440 hp even more powerful F512 M (Modificata). The TR is distinguishable form the side where it has a design close to the 348, and the F512 M is from both the front (no more pop-up headlights) and from the rear as well (see below). When production of the F512 ended in 1996 it also meant the end of the Ferrari flat 12-cylinder engine, and the Testarossa was also the last unlimited (in production numbers) mid-engined Ferrari. As for the numbers almost exactly 10.000 cars were built of the three versions, split as around 7.200 Testarossas, 2.300 512 TR’s, and only 500 F512 M. That is also reflected in the prices they go for today. A Testarossa will be yours for around EUR 100′ and upwards, the TR for around EUR 50′ more, and the Modificata for more than three times an original Testarossa – if you can find one. If you buy it to drive, which I would dare hope, those that have tried all three say the price difference isn’t worth it as the “base” Testarossa conveys both enough power and even more of the original Ferrari spirit from the golden 80’s. Also, you’ll probably want to make sure that cambelt was replaced not too long ago!

The F512 M is rare – and expensive!

Street finds: the Canadian Alfa Romeo!

The sun has been out in Zurich lately which certainly doesn’t hurt given it seemed to be very far away during most of the summer. This obviously means that some classic car owners have extended the season, but it was still a very nice surprise to walk out of the office door last week and see… an Alfa Romeo Montreal! It certainly doesn’t happen often, and as can be seen below, it was also a Montreal in very nice condition.

To start with the not very Italian name, why on earth did Alfa name the Montreal after a town in Québec? The simple explanation is taht the Montreal was first shown at the world exhibition in 1967 in, you guessed it, Montreal, and Alfa apparently had no better name in mind than that. Production started three years later in 1970 and ended in 1977. The beautiful coupé was designed by our old friend Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the most striking feature is certainly the covers over the headlights that move back when you turn them on.

Sleak lines with characteristic headlights and side air intakes

The second most noticeable feature of the Montreal is certainly what looks like air intakes for a mid-mounted engine. The Montreal however never had, and was never intended to have a mid-mounted engine, so what you first think are intakes for the engine is actually intakes to cool the passengers. It is true that at the time of the original design Alfa indeed had the idea of a mid-mounted engine, but when the project moved on, this was scrapped but the air intakes were kept and certainly help the design of the car!

Ample space for two on the way to the Côte d’Azur!

Even if the engine is in the front, it’s clearly the highlight of the car. The four-cam, eight-cylinder engine had been developed for the Tipo 33 that Alfa had raced before it moved into the Montreal. At 2.6 litres it was quite small but still developed 200 hp, but did so using quite a lot of fuel which wasn’t ideal in the early 70’s, as we’ll come back to. As so often Alfa then ran into a bit of a money problem and therefore chose to use the chassis and brakes from the Giulia GT, meaning they were a bit under-dimensioned for the car given the powerful engine. In other words acceleration was better than braking, so staying up in front was a good idea!

The Montreal interior doesn’t reach the heights of some other Italian legends from Modena or Sant’Agata from the period, then again the Montreal was cheaper to buy and is still a nice place to be, and ties into the tradition of GT cars from the 70’s. Unfortunately all these also had in common that they drove straight into the 1973-1974 oil crisis, which in the case of Montreal certainly didn’t help the sales numbers. In the seven years of production, only around 4.000 cars were therefore built.

Many cars had leather seats rather than cloth

They were however built with surprisingly good protection against corrosion, which wasn’t a typical feature of Alfa for the period but which means that Finding a nice Montreal today isn’t that difficult. As in so many cases, buying one of those five-six years ago had been far cheaper than today with nice cars now trading around EUR 60-80.000. Although it’s easy to love the design and even more so with a V8 under the hood, at that price level there a bit too many interesting competitors for me to be swayed by the Canadian Alfa!

Celebrating the real legend!

You may have seen that Lamborghini has re-introduced the Countach. Yes, you read that right, the most legendary of all sports cars of the 80’s – scrap that, of all times! The one a fair number of us born in the early 70’s with a head full of petrol dreamt about and put a poster of on our bedroom wall, next to Samantha Fox, Sabrina or Miami Vice. Just hearing the news, I imagine I wasn’t the only one filled with not just a little excitement. It didn’t last long though. The fall back to reality was heavy a few moments later as I learnt more about the new car.

You see, what Lambo dares calling the new Countach, under the official name LPI 800-4, has precious little to do with Marcelo Gandini’s jawdropping design from back then – nor is it a modern interpretation of the same theme. Nope, visually the new Countach is nothing more than a relatively modestly re-designed Aventador with some clumsy Countach references, of which 112 will be built (that’s good as it reduces the risk of being disappointed seeing it “live”). They’re of course extremely expensive (price not known at this point but probably around USD 3m), atrociously fast with 814 hp leading to a 0-100 time of below 3 seconds, naturally hybrid with a small electric engine making up 45 of those 814 hp, supporting the V12 and, it goes without saying, all sold, presumably to buyers of which a majority will park them in a garage and never drive them. Disappointed? Me?

The new Avent… sorry, Countach.

That is however all I’ll say about the new Countach and I also promise not to make this a long rant about how much modern supercars lack the heart and soul of the true legends. Instead we’ll do something much more fun: we’ll travel back to our younger years when our jeans were stone-washed, our socks white and our shoulders impossibly wide. For a few minutes, we’ll return to that poster on the bedroom wall (no, not Samantha) and have a good look at the original, REAL Countach! Interestingly, doing so also involves coming back to some legendary Italian car builders that have been featured on this blog earlier and only serve to highlight the true legend that the original Countach is.

The story begins in the early 70’s with Bertone being commissioned by Lamborghini to come up with a replacement for the Miura, which had only been on sale for a few years but already faced strong competition from the new Ferrari Daytona, introduced in 1969. Marcello Gandini, lead designer at Bertone, had a few years earlier started to experiment with a new design language as notably shown in the Lancia Stratos: a much more wedge-like, angular shape, and he took on the new Lambo project in the same spirit while the engineers were working on the engine. It was clear that the new car would remain rear-wheel drive with a rear-mid 12-cylinder engine as on the Miura, but for weight distribution along with some mechanical reasons, not transversally mounted as on the latter.

The true legends – from left to right, Giotto Bizzarrini, Ferruccio Lamborghini and Gian Paolo Dallara in 1963, admiring a prototype of the coming Lamborghini V12, designed by Bizzarrini!

The name Countach has always been a bit of a riddle and is a story in itself. Countach doesn’t mean anything in Italian and is also not following Lambo’s tradition of naming cars after bulls or bullfights. The story goes that one of the mechanics in the Sant’Agata factory only spoke Piedmontese, a regional language closer to French than to Italian in which there is the word “contacc”, an expression showing astonishment. The unnamed mechanic used it quite frequently when working on the car and Marcello Gandini therefore half jokingly sugested it as a possible name to Bob Wallace, Lambo test driver at the time, who confirmed it worked in English with a minor adaptation. The most spectacular supercar of all times was thus named on the factory floor and not in a board room! The first prototype was presented to the public at the Paris Auto Show in 1971 with sales starting three years later in 1974. They wouldn’t stop until 16 years later, in 1990.

A 1974 Countach, with 14″ inch wheels and lovely rear wheelarches!

Next to the long production time itself, it’s impressive how well the new design held up (and still holds up if you’re lucky to see one!). If you remove the increasing amount of spoilers and skirts that were added over the years, the basic design of the car remained unchanged throughout the 16 years of production. I guess I wasn’t the only one who in my youth found things like the giant spoiler on some later cars ultra-cool, but looking back with (slightly) more mature eyes today, it’s pretty clear the the first iteration was the cleanest and best-looking. I’m not sure beautiful is the right word, but spectacular definitely is. The wedge shape, the side air intakes, the forward movement created by the cutting of the rear wheelarches – and of course the scissor doors. The doors did not only come about for show though, as given how wide the Countach is and especially how massive its doorsills are, fitting conventional doors would have been both unpractical and complicated. Owners of later Countaches with the dome on the engine are especially thankful for that given for them, sitting on the doorsill with the door open and turning your head backwards is the only way to have any kind of rear-view visibility. If the Countach was wide (almost 2 metres) with poor rear visibility, it certainly wasn’t long. At 4.15 metres it’s far smaller than you would imagine, and actually shorter than a Lotus Evora!

As long as your garage is high enough, you’ll never have issues getting in!

If the design was spectacular, the engine was of course not less so. The V12 came from the Miura and as shown in the first picture, had its origins back in 1963, having been designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, whom you can read an earlier post of here. Also as mentioned it was longitudinally mounted such as to improve notably weight distribution and solve some other issues, with the 5-speed manual transmission being placed in front of the engine. The initial Countach LP-400 had the same 3.9 litre volume as the Miura, with a power output of 375 hp. It was later increased first to 4.7 litres in the LP5000S in 1982, and then 5 litres in the LP5000 QV (Quattrovalvole, four valves per cylinder) version from 1985 with 440 hp. It’s noticeable that until the end in 1990, the engine retained carburettors when everyone else had switched to fuel injection (for emission reasons the Countaches going to the US had to be injected). Having originally been side-mounted, the carburettors moved to the top of the engine on later cars, explaining the dome over the engine. This wonderful machine would outlive the Countach over the Diablo all the way to the Murcielago, meaning a production time of almost 50 years! Contrary to what you would maybe think, it also has a reputation of not being very primadonna-like, but rather very reliable.

Except for in my dreams I’ve never been in a Countach, much less driven one, but this is very high on the bucket list (you wouldn’t happen to own one, would you?). I have however peaked in to several of them and as anyone who does so, you may not realize that the window you look through only opens 5cm or so, but definitely that the money had run out before the time had come to design the interior. Not that it’s worse than on many other 80’s cars but the grand plans Lambo had for notably digital instruments never materialized and the interior is thus very conventional compared to the spectacular body. The seats are however a wonder of comfort compared to modern bucket seats, but they can only be adjusted in length. If you’re taller than 180 cm you should also be prepared to have contact with the roof lining (here, the later cars helped, giving another 3cm of head space in the “high” versions). And when it comes to driving, taking it from multiple reviews, it’s all hard work with an unassisted steering, a heavy clutch (those six carburettors are partly to be thanked for that, but you can’t have it all!) and a general experience of needing to work hard to get the most out of the car. Then again, isn’t that the way it should be in a true supercar?

Initial plans for a singe-spoke, Citroën-style steering wheel were also dropped

Production of the Countach came to an end in 1990, with the 25th anniversary edition introduced in 1988 with a certain Horacio Pagani (on whom you can read more here) being responsible for a lot of the restyling. The final iteration wasn’t loved by everyone given it departed from some of the most classical design features on previous Countaches and had a bit too many skirts, even for the late 80’s. It was however the fastest version of the Countach, capable of a top speed of 295 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Remember this is 30 years ago on a car that was equipped by 345 mm rear tires, however only 15″ in wheel size! At the time, those were the biggest tires on the market.

The Anniversary edition was also the most popular version in production numbers, built 657 times and thus making up a third of the total production of around 1970 Countachs ever built. That’s right, the most legendary supercar of all times was built less than 2.000 times, to be compared for example with the over 7.000 Testarossas (not counting the 512’s). Not only that, a third of all Countaches were sold when it had already been on the market for 14 years! Another third was made up of the Quattrovalvole version (610 cars), thus leaving just a third of the early Countachs. Good luck finding one of those today… The easiest one to find today is the QV with prices starting around EUR 300′, with real jewels going for up to EUR 700′. That’s a lot of money, and a lot more than you would have paid ten years ago. Having said that, it’s still a couple of million less that you would pay for the new 2022 version if you were on the list of the selected 112 owners, and seen in that light, probably one of the greatest bargains out there! Junior may have more power and features, but in the Countach world, there’s no doubt that Daddy still rules big time!

One year with the 650i convertible!

As we all know time flies and it’s already a year since I bought my 650i convertible that I told you about in a post at the time, that you can view here if you missed it. It’s in other words time to make a brief pit stop to tell you how the first year has been, what the suprises, if any, have been and perhaps also if my initial statement from a year ago on the 650i being pretty sensational value for money still holds true. Given this is not a thriller movie I’ll allow myself to take that last piece of excitement away right here: the 650i is for all intents an purposes a bargain as has been confirmed many times over the last 12 months!

Given it’s a converible, the big Bavarian of course didn’t move in in the right season, but I managed to have some really nice drives during Sept-Oct last year before it got cold and wet and it was time to park it for the winter. You’ll tell me that given the four-wheel drive, the thickness of the hood and the quality of a BMW there was really little reason for this and you’d be right, except that as it happens we have a family SUV as well and if I don’t use it during the winter, when should I then use it… Also, the condition of the 650i being as good as it is, I would feel physically bad if I drove it on salty roads. So for the 4-5 months between November and March, the only thing that happened were a few drives long enough to get the engine warm and make sure the tires stay round.

It’s helps living in a country where a nice drive is never far away!

Spring came and was nice and it was then time to put the car a bit more to the test. As I noted in my last post, the 650 is much more of a GT than a sports car, also given its length of almost five meters and its weight of around two tons. Given that it’s pretty amazing how BMW managed to create an interior space that is so limited. There are absolutely no complaints up front where supreme comfort reigns, and sure, the back seats work for adults for shorter trips, but I wouldn’t take the kids for more than a couple of hours given how cramped the seats are. Then again I was well aware of that and the intention is to use the car for two. No doubt the long body adds a bit of elegance and I guess the point of a large convertible is also that you can be allowed to be a bit wasteful with space, even if it doesn’t make much sense. At least the boot is suprisingly large (even more so when the roof is up) which is definitely a plus in this family!

There are A LOT of positives I’ve noted during my first 12 months of owning the 650i so in order not to bore you, let me just focus on some of the main ones. The first thing I noticed was how precise and well weighted the steering was, especially in the sports setting. The comparison that jumped to mind was my previous E63 AMG, but I would say the 650i is marginally better, and the wheel is in BMW manner definitely thicker, but not too much so. Secondly, I was positively suprised that behind the elegant appearance lures quite a hooligan. Hit that Sport button and floor it in a tunnel, and if the roof is up, lower the back window (yes you can, and thank you very much whoever thought of that!), and if the resulting roar, pops and other guttural sounds don’t put a smile on your face, then do indeed buy an EV. The 450 hp double-turbo V8 delivers just the right amount of power and the double-clutch gearshift is so smooth you don’t even notice it.

Perfectly weighted steering and a nice thick wheel!

Thirdly, the suspension is superb and I’ll tie this to the overall quality of the build which is absolutely amazing. Take the roof off a car means removing a lot of the inherent rigidity of the body, usually leading to the odd squeek here and there. Not so in the 650i, which remains as silent as a Bavarian forest. I made a point on this in my initial post, namely the logic of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car rather than a less depreciated middle class one, as so much more effort has been invested in the original build. Finally, at least for a middle-aged man, the level of infotainment is exactly right. BMW’s solution from 2013-2014 was pretty much on the edge of what was done then, and it works absolutely fine to this day with nice physical buttons to press rather than a flimsy screen with fatty marks where you desperately try to aim for a word in the upper corner.

What I don’t like? To be honest not a lot, but then again the initial brief was quite clear and didn’t leave room for mant surprises. What you definitely need to be aware of is that it’s a big car, which is to your advantage for the long trips on open roads but obviously less so in tight cities or garages. There are of course cameras and warning sounds all around, but you do need to be careful especially towards the front where the sloping hood is very difficult to estimate. In the section of minor complaints I would also question BMW’s decision in a convertible to only put a lock on the compartment under the center armrest but not on the glovebox, that you can thus not lock if you park the car with the hood down? That’s probably it though, and it sure isn’t a lot. Most importantly I haven’t had a single issue with the car so far, and now that the one year warranty has run out, I do hope that remains the case!

In the small segment of unpractical four-seat convertibles, the 650i thus shines as much now as it did 12 months ago. I love it and plan to keep it for a long time. It’s also nice to see that prices seem to have bottomed out, with cars currently being in the market being a few thousand more than what I paid. That confirms the saying that luxury cars fall like stones until they don’t do so anymore, and that seems to be the case for the 650i. If it corresponds to your brief and needs, I can thus only recommend that you join the club!